Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Temperate Rainforest

Everyone seems to know about tropical rainforests, and there are always cries to "save the rainforest," meaning to save the tropical rainforest.  However, many folks don't know that there are also temperate rainforests, and the largest area of them is in our own Pacific Northwest and British Columbia.  Karin and I had the opportunity to live in Astoria, Oregon for 3 years - right in the thick of the temperate rainforest!

Things are soft and fuzzy in the temperate rainforest.

What makes a rainforest a rainforest is, of course, rain.  However, it's more complicated than that.  Both tropical and temperate rainforests have very moderated temperatures, i.e., the temperature does not vary much from day to night, day to day, or throughout the year. 

In Astoria, the temperature in the winter was typically in the 40's at night and the 50's in the day.  During summer, it was in the 50's at night and the 60's in the day, with a few bits of 70's or 80's in the bright sun. Other important factors are fog (there's lots) and seasonality of rain (in Astoria, almost completely dry from July through October, and then rain almost every single day from late October through the end of June).

Rain rain go away - may as well save your breath...

In Astoria, where we lived, it's near the coast and the average annual rainfall is 67 inches.  In nearby Nehalem, the annual average is 118 inches, or nearly ten feet of rain.  The record yearly rainfall in the contiguous United States is in Laurel Mountain, Oregon, with a whopping record of 204 inches in one year, or 17 feet of rain.  In November of 2006, the mountain received a record 49.50 inches of rain, with 6 days data being lost due to a malfunctioning rain gauge (i.e., just 24 days data recorded).   

Contrast that to Westfield which gets just 47 inches of precipitation in a whole year on average.  All that is amazing, but consider Puu Kukui in Hawaii, which got a record 101 inches in the month of March 1942, and in 1982, a record 58 feet of rainfall!

Typical Oregon Temperate Rainforest view - lake and forest in rain with fog

You should be wondering, why the heck does it rain so much.  That's due to the proximity to the Pacific Ocean, the prevailing wind from the west, and something called Orographic Precipitation.  In essence, the wind blows moist air from the Pacific Ocean toward the Coastal and Cascade Mountains.  When the air hits the mountains, it is pushed up and cools off.  As it cools, the water vapor condenses, forms raindrops, and the rain falls on the windward (west) side of the mountains.  As the air goes over the mountains and drops down the other side, its out of moisture and it also warms up, so there's no more rain and a dry desert area occurs called the rain shadow.  We'll have another post in a day or so that graphically demonstrates this phenomena.  

Ok, enough of all that.  Here's what you see.  Beautiful dense forests with lots of moss, ferns, lichens, and other epiphytes.

Here's what one Oregon State Park Campground looked like...a good day to be high, dry, and warm in the Airstream!

Flooded, wet soggy, muddy fields near Tillamook, OR...

 This was a rarity for Spring - a day with blue sky and sunshine....and rain.  Fort Stephens, Oregon, about 8 miles from Astoria and right on the coast at the mouth of the Columbia River.

This is actually a different storm cloud, but you can see the rain is about to eat up this surf fisherman and his truck.  He's fishing for steelhead on the Columbia River.  They say that to train for Steelhead fishing, you first load your reel with 50 lb test fishing line.  Then you tie the line to the bumper of your friend's pickup truck. Then you have him drive off, and you try to reel him back in.  Luckily, this guy was wearing waders.

Much later that same day, the view from the Astoria Column looking down the Columbia River to the Pacific Ocean, with more rain blowing by.  In the nearfield is Oregon, the bit of land to the right is Washington.  The bridge you see is actually 4 miles long.  Hard to get a feeling for the scale of things out here, but you can see the rain.  Did you ever see the rain, coming down on a sunny day?

As I write this, we're camped in Cascade Locks, OR.  It's raining on the Airstream.  I have never, ever, ever been through Cascade Locks without getting rained on.  Online stats say Cascade Locks gets about 77 inches rain a year and has around 100 days a year with MEASUREABLE rainfall, but every time I have been here, it has rained every day, at least a little bit. (To be fair, we seem to be some sort of weather jinxxes. On this trip, we have gotten rained on in every single state, including the desert ones)

So, you might wonder, how do people deal with all the rain.  Many don't and go crazy or move away.  Karin and I would drive from the coast inland just to see blue sky and dryness.  The rain was ok till about February, where after 4 months of rain, we'd get cabin fever and be ready for spring.  Finally, we did move away.  I miss it.

Anyhow, you wear fleece, rubber boots, and you just get to where you don't notice it any longer.  Good gutters and drain systems on your house and property are important, as is a decent heat system to get the clamminess out of your house.  Also, in Astoria, the natives are of Scandinavian background, so there are a lot of Swedish, Finnish, and Norwegian festivals during the dark part of the year, which take the edge off of the rainy season.  One of our favorites was the Umbrella parade, which was simply everyone walking through downtown with umbrellas.  You'd just join in and start walking with your umbrella, or cheer on the others that were walking.

So, next time it rains in Westfield and you're complaining - GET OVER IT.

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