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March 2011 Sunshine Analysis – Olympic Rain Shadow vs. Downtown Seattle

Our sixth monthly study examines the month of March, 2011 and sunshine data from three different weather stations, one located in Sequim, one in Port Angeles, and one in Seattle. March in the pacific northwest is typically a spring month with rapidly increasing solar radiation, but frequent stormy periods. 

This March was exceptionally cool and stormy. Following a very cold end of February, the weather moderated, and starting on Monday March 7th, we saw a parade of very fast moving cool storms march across the Pacific toward the Northwest, producing abundant snow, rain, and a pronounced rain shadow. This pattern lasted until the 15th, after which we experienced a period of dryer weather with weaker more seasonal storms. The last three days of the month included a rare spring pineapple express, which obliterated the rain shadow. 

Despite the very stormy weather pattern, rain shadow locations saw up to 23 partly or mostly sunny days where as Seattle saw only 13 such days. In fact, Seattle had a quite dark and wet month, with a decrease in sunny days vis-à-vis February, despite the longer month, and generally improving weather.

Study Highlights:

  • Sequim was 1.26 times as bright as Seattle; Port Angeles was 1.06 times as bright as Seattle.

  • Sequim saw an average of 1.79 hours of bright sun per day, compared to .92 hours/day in Port Angeles, and .82 hours/day in Seattle.

  • During the nine day period from 7th to the 15th of March, Seattle had seven cloudy, rainy days, and 3.42 " of rain.

  • During this same period, Sequim recorded 8 of 9 days at least partly sunny, with only 1/8th the rainfall of Seattle, and a total of 1.5 times the sunlight! Details below.

Solar radiation and rainfall during stormy period from March 7-15th

Detailed Study Findings

The Sequim site recorded 7 mostly sunny days, to Seattle's 5 mostly sunny days. Seattle had 17 cloudy days, compared to 8 in Sequim, and 12 in Port Angeles.

  Dreary Days Cloudy Days Partly Sunny Days Mostly Sunny Days
Sequim 0 8 16 7
Port Angeles 0 12 16 3
Seattle 1 17 8 5


On average for the month, the Sequim site had 1.70 hours of clear sunny skies per day, whereas Port Angeles had .87 hours, and Seattle had .99 hours. In terms of pure solar radiation, the Sequim site for the month recorded 1.26 times as much overall solar radiation as Seattle, and 1.19 times as much as the Port Angeles site.

  Hours per Day Clear Sunny Total Solar Radiation (Relative Multiplier)
Sequim 1.7 1.26
Port Angeles .87 1.06
Seattle .99 1.00



Study Conclusion

  • In a very active spring month,  rain shadow areas recorded significantly more light than the urban Seattle area.

  • During the most active stormy period, rain shadow areas clearly differentiated themselves from the Seattle area regarding sunlight and rainfall.

  • If you are feeling you are living in a dreary neighborhood in the eastern Puget Sound or Cascade foothills, take a road trip to the Olympic rain shadow, and you will likely see *a lot* more light during the darker months and stormy periods.


Full month solar radiation chart

Study Methodology

This study was conducted by examining incident solar radiation. Solar radiation is measured in watts per square meter. This measurement is directly related to illuminance, a measure of how much light falls on a given area.

We used data from three different weather stations.

The first station, the Sequim station, is located on the roof of a single story home on Jamestown Beach Rd, in Sequim, directly on the shores of the Strait of Juan de Fuca. This location may be very close to the epicenter of the Olympic Rain Shadow. As with many locations on the Dungeness plain in Sequim, this one is not shaded by tall trees, nor does it have any hills affecting its exposure. When the sun rises in the morning, it clears the horizon almost immediately as the areas to the south and east are open water. When the sun sets in the evening, it sets to the west, over the Dungeness plain, so stays above the horizon for quite some time. The Sequim location uses a Davis Instruments Vantage Pro 2 with optional solar sensor. This station measures solar radiation every 2 minutes and records the average over 10 minutes.

The second station is in downtown Port Angeles, at Lincoln High School. The school's Davis Instruments Vantage Pro2 Plus sensors are mounted on the rooftop of the high school,  about a mile southwest of ferry dock to Victoria B.C. at an elevation of about 200 feet. There is excellent exposure clockwise from northeast to southwest and good exposure for the other directions. The sensors record solar radiation every five minutes. Special thanks to Peter Alexander, his math classes, and Lincoln High School for the data and support..

The third station is atop the Atmospheric Sciences Department building of the University of Washington, in the University District of Seattle. This seven story building is not in the classical Olympic Rain Shadow area, but is still slightly shadowed by the Olympics. Given that the sensor is located atop a tall building, this location has ideal exposure and receives maximum solar radiation. This station records solar radiation every minute. Data was retrieved by downloading public information from the University of Washington’s Department of Atmospheric Sciences website.

For purposes of this study, skies were defined as follows:

“Clear Sunny” sensors record at least 60% of the maximum radiation possible for that day of that year
“Bright” sensors record between 20% and 60% of the maximum radiation for that day of that year
“Gray” sensors record between 50 w/m^2 and 20% of the maximum radiation for that day of that year
“Dark Gray” sensors record between 1 and 49 w/m^2

Days were categorized as follows:

"Mostly Sunny Day" over ½ the day had at least “bright” skies, with at least 22% of daylight hours “clear sunny”.
"Partly Sunny Day" over ½ the day had at least “bright” skies, but less than 22% of daylight hours “clear sunny”.
"Overcast Day" over ½ the day had gray or dark gray skies, but at least 22% of daylight hours “gray”.
"Dreary Day" daylight hours predominately dark gray, with less then 22% of daylight hours “gray”.

Data was aggregated, analyzed, and graphed using Microsoft Excel.


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