Snowy White Solstice

White Christmas? How about a White Solstice? What a year for weather.

It is the Winter Solstice, the day when the Sun reaches its minimum declination. Huh? OK. It’s the shortest day of the year. Well, the day’s length stays the same, but it is basically the day with the shortest time between sunrise and sunset. It isn’t the earliest sunset nor the latest sunrise, those details change for reasons geeks can appreciate best; but it is easier to remember: shortest length of daylight, and the start of Winter.

Winter’s definition gets shifted a bit, too. Meteorological winter starts December 1. Real winter is something else. When does it get cold enough, dark enough, stormy enough, snowy enough? When do the ski areas open? When can you put chains on your car? When do prices change from the peak season? When can a gardener take a break? (Never.) Real winter is what you think is winter.

A few days ago the island met wind and cold and then snow. The air near the shore stays warmer longer, thanks to the heat sink that is the Salish Sea. Even a hundred feet of elevation and some distance back from the water can mean rain turns to snow.

Time it right or wrong and Salish Sea snow can become slick enough to spin cars on only an inch or two of accumulation. The good news: most drivers drive cautiously, slow down, give other people space, and generally respect physics. The bad news: sometimes it makes sense to get out of someone’s way, or maybe just stay home.

Sure, we have plows; but it is a long island with lots of hills, trees, and cold micro-climates. It is also a rural county, so there are fewer people, and less money to pay for equipment and employees. Patience pays, but generally count on the highways being cleared first. Your neighbors can be your best resource for road reports because every neighborhood is different.

Lots of places ended up with about four inches of snow. Shorelines get the least, but may give folks a chance to ski by the water. Ridgelines get great views, a chance at the most snow, and also better reasons to sit and enjoy the silence – as long as the power stays on. If the power goes out the generators kick on, even in empty houses because some of them are on automatic systems.

Normally, a day of rain can remove snow and ice far faster than sunshine, especially because of the shade of the trees. This time the cold air is lingering for a couple of days. Some places are forecast to get night-time lows in the teens (F). The rains are forecast to arrive, but the timing means that the cold air and the wet air may mingle in weird ways. It may become snow, or freezing rain, or straight to rain, or a mix and a blending and a reason to video whatever is happening.

By Christmas there may not be much white remaining. An atmospheric river is forecast to arrive, washing out yet another storm’s remains; hopefully clearing and cleaning the air.

The solstice is a new season, basically a new year. More sunshine will be delivered. Even there, supply chain issues may arrive as clouds can also be delivered.

Regardless, between sunrise and sunset, there’s more sunshine every day within a few miles; sometimes you have to go straight up to get past the clouds, though.

Happy Solstice.

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