NPMOD Whidbey Island takes a hike
by AG1(AW) Jeremy D Hawkins
It was a damp and foggy morning as all hands stared at a satellite picture of our chosen destination Hurricane Ridge, which stands approximately 6,400 feet high and is located on the northeastern side of the Olympic Mountain Range, southwest of NAS Whidbey Island.
The Olympic Mountains, and Hurricane Ridge in particular, play very prominent roles in the weather that occurs on Whidbey Island and the rest of the inland waters of western Washington. Mesoscale meteorological features such as the lee-side trough, Puget Sound convergence zone, and the Olympic rainshadow are all related to the interaction of the synoptic scale flow and the Olympic Mountains.
To fully appreciate these features, one must see them first-hand, and that is what we set out to accomplish.
Starting at 7:00 a.m., three carloads of NPMOD Whidbey Island personnel and their family members set out for Blue Mountain, the northeast terminal of Hurricane Ridge.
After a ferry ride off the island and a drive of 40 to 50 minutes we arrived at our destination, the northeastern portion of the Olympic National Park.
Standing on the first ridge, next to a trailhead appropriately named Rainshadow Trail, we got our first glimpse of the dramatic elevation difference between the eastern Olympics and the lowlands surrounding the Puget Sound and the Strait of Juan De Fuca (a 6,000-foot drop in less than five miles). At this point, we could almost feel the effect it has on the weather as the wind rushes over and down the mountainside. Of course, to the family members, this was nothing more than a really high mountain with a fabulous view, but to the Aerographer's Mates, it meant more.
AG1(AW) Jeremy Hawkins (left) and STGC (SW) Chris Dyas on the Grand Trail overlooking Deception Ridge.
Looking down the mountain to the lowlands, we could appreciate the shear force of the lee side low-pressure trough, created as storm-force winds flow over the Olympic crest. The flow creates both the lee-side trough along the base of the mountains (which can and often does, cause winds up to gale force over Whidbey Island) and the rain shadow effect caused by the strong subsidence downwind of the mountains. As a result we're often dry at NAS Whidbey Island while other areas are drenched in rainfall.
After a brief discussion about the affects the mountains have on the mesoscale meteorology of the region, we set off again on the second half of our journey an eight-mile round-trip hike toward Obstruction Point.
Arriving at the trailhead, we strapped on our packs, filled our water bottles and started off with family members in tow. The trail was fabulous, not too difficult to climb and it offered awesome views of the various Olympic Mountain peaks, such as Mt. Olympus, the tallest in the Olympic Range.
During the hike we got the chance, as a command, to enjoy the beauty of the region and catch a glimpse or two of some of the region's many animals, such as the Roosevelt elk and the black-tail deer.
After a long day of hiking and sight-seeing everyone was truly exhausted but there were no regrets. Together we got to not only enjoy the great region in which we were lucky enough to be stationed but also to have a better understanding of how the Olympic Mountains affect us and the weather in western Washington. This valuable lesson will do nothing but improve the already outstanding meteorological support that NPMOD Whidbey Island provides the Department of the Navy, DOD, and various civilian agencies in the Pacific Northwest.