Remember those Seasons On Whidbey? The climate may be mild, but it does get a chance to show its range. This year it delivered the quintessential winter combination, a white Christmas.
Yes, it does happen. The waters surrounding the island may be cold, but they’re usually warmer than the winter air, so they warm the weather as it approaches the island. It’s tricky, but conditions can line up to let the snow fall. Whidbey Island, as well as much of Puget Sound, sits between two major systems. Typically, storm systems come out of the south and are warm and wet, frequently delivering water from around Hawaii. The biggest systems are called the Pineapple Express, a river of water drenching Oregon and Washington. Systems coming out of the north are less common, but when they arrive they tend to bring frigid but dry air. Snow needs a one thing from each. When warm and wet collides with cold and dry the air mixes into a mess that challenges meteorologists. The word “chance” plays a big role in the forecast. Where the rain runs into the cold air, show falls.
Christmas 2017 had an almost perfect balance, for much of the area. One to three inches of snow accumulated, enough to make the place look pretty, pristine, and poetic – but little enough that most folks were able to drive without much of a problem. (But the ice that did form was a good reason to drive more slowly and walk more carefully.) The power stayed on. The lights glowed through the snow, and pets and kids were joined by anyone who wanted to play. Well-dressed snowmen popped up. A few short sled runs survived long enough to create memories. A great excuse lasted long enough to light fireplaces and fill mugs. A few days later, and slightly warmer air and a bit of sunshine melted most of the snow.
As picturesque as the snow can be, it also provided a great opportunity to spot the micro-climates. A simple drive through various neighborhoods revealed shaded places that preserved the snow, ponds and lakes that held ice for several more days, and other places that looked dry and clear before the rest. Touring the island in the summer can make it all look the same. Touring the island in winter is much more educational.
The island is long and skinny. Most of it is within a mile of the water. The closer a place is to the water, the warmer it is and the less likely it will have snow. Down the middle of the island is a series of ridges carved and sculpted by the glaciers. The high point may only be about five hundred feet up, but that’s enough for hilltop view properties to be sitting in several inches of snow while their beach side neighbors merely have wet streets. A drive from a house on an eastern shore to a house on a western shore could start and end with no problems, but have to slowly navigate through a few slippery patches in between. Add in the rarity of the event which means fewer than normal snow plows, plus add in a few steep hills, and find streets with Road Closed signs that are waiting for some sunshine or rain.
I enjoy taking photos, but didn’t take any this time. It was Christmas Day. Cooking and socializing were a higher priority. Besides, my house is only about a hundred feet up, and less than a half a mile from the water. The snow looked nice, but my house got so little that the snow had a furry green fringe. Not quite as picturesque.
There have been other days and other storms when I happened to be out with my camera. Here are a few examples from a few places on the island, proof that, while it doesn’t snow much very often, we do get enough to reminders delivered just often enough to enjoy the snow when it arrives.
But, it’s also fun to ski all the way down to the shoreline.
And, if you want more snow just look east or west to the mountains. They set world records up there, only a couple of hours away.