A gift from the tropics, the Pineapple Express. Locals know it isn’t about shipments of spiky fruit. The Pineapple Express is a river of weather than starts in the tropical Pacific, pulls amazing amounts of water from the ocean, and dumps it onto the west coast of North America. This weekend, “One of the Greatest West Coast Atmospheric Rivers on Record” will arrive. The good news for Whidbey Island is that the heaviest rains will hit elsewhere. Sorry, California. Inches of rain will wash their mountains. This time, Whidbey will probably get less than an inch. Probably. It is the nature of living by the sea.
Every region gets its extreme weather. Big rainstorms rarely get the same attention as big wind storms. Hurricanes and tornadoes are dramatic and create great visuals for the news. Puddles and raindrops rarely make headlines. If you’re trying to mow your lawn, however, Pineapple Expresses can draw a lot of attention – especially when they hit in the spring. While the mower (the person) and the mower (the machine) stay somewhere dry, the grass, weeds, and gardens continue to grow. The first dry day afterwards will bring a concert of lawnmowers trying to cut down too tall grass. If the express becomes a marathon, then some gas-powered mowers will squish their way through. In terms of extremes, an Express usually won’t hit the news; but, as California may experience this weekend, slides and floods happen.
Whidbey Island is a mosaic of pocket climates. The Olympic Mountains are a barrier that absorbs much of the energy, and the water. Fifty miles from the island is the Hoh Rainforest, a temperate rainforest that gets 12 to 14 feet, not inches, feet, of rain in a normal year. Between the two are over a hundred miles of road, some of which pass through Sequim, a place known for being in the rain shadow of the Olympics. They get less than 20 inches of rain per year. Parts of Whidbey enjoy the rain shadow too, but the island is far enough from the mountains to let the storms turn the corner and reassert themselves. That leads to the Puget Sound Convergence Zone, which deserves its own post.
Full-time residents learn to cope with the rain. Some even enjoy it. Waking up to a rainy day is a great excuse to stay inside, light the fireplace, pour some tea (or coffee or wine), and settle into a long day of reading and relaxing. The rain is welcome. It fills the aquifers that supply the wells. The mainland gets water from the mountains, but it doesn’t make the jump across the Sound. Houses, businesses, schools, all rely on well water, and well water relies on rain.
Skiers welcome the rain because it can turn to snow in the mountains, where other records are set. Mt. Baker, yet another local volcano, set the record for 95 feet of snow in one season. With that much snow, entire forests are covered. The mountain’s ski resort is well known for its snow’s quantity. Quality, well, that’s a matter of taste; but the nickname is Cascade Concrete – not exactly champagne powder. Ah, but it is reliable.
Whidbey Island is lucky that the weather always seems to find a way to moderate itself. Winter and spring weather can be cold, wet, or windy; but rarely cold, wet and windy. Cold and wet is the norm; to the point that kids born here may play outside anyway. Cold and windy happen when the rain hits south instead of here; so, there are days to wrap the water pipes. Wet and windy happen; but they tend to be slightly out of phase with one leading the other and departing. Today, it is cold-ish (52F), not very rainy (< 1 inch), and with barely any wind (6mph). Saturday, however, will see a rare event when the wind and the rain hit at the same time.
“high wind–25-40 mph with gusts to 60 mph–indicated Saturday on the
coast, and windy conditions–20-35 mph with gusts to 45 mph–inland” – National Weather Service
Evidently this Pineapple Express is large enough to deliver its fruits to more than just California. A good time to make sure the pantry is full, there are a stack of good books, and as long as the power stays on, maybe some good movies, too. Mowing can happen later, even if it involves a weed whacker or a herd of goats.