June 21, 2011

Summer Solstice in the Northwestern Corner

It's June 21st, the Summer Solstice. It is the longest day of the year in the northern hemisphere. But, as it more common than not in the Pacific Northwest, entering late June does not necessarily bring warm weather and sunshine. So, while the east coast bakes in 90+ temperatures, fires rage in the Desert Southwest, tornadoes rip across the Midwest and floods drown the northern Great Plains, Washington has been sitting in its typical 60 degrees and mostly cloudy pattern.

Late evening view of the Gray Wolf Range from Dungeness Recreation Area

But, just by chance perhaps, the clouds broke on this day and the sunshine came out. It is not a strong high pressure center clearing away all humidity and bring 70's, but it was just enough of a window between storms to go out and see the sunset on the summer solstice. On this longest day of the year, sunset is nearly 9:30pm at this high latitude (48 N) and this far west (123 west).

Fata Morgana effect

So, I was off to the Dungeness Recreation Area to see the sunset on the Strait of Juan de Fuca. Because the sun sets to the far northwest in June, it did not end up setting over the water, but rather over Vancouver Island. Now the summer will begin slowly arc'ing its way back to the southwest where in winter it will set over the Olympic Mountains.

Distance fog can also be seen on the water's surface

A temperature inversion over the water (the cold water cooling the warmer air above) caused distant and normally not visible headlands far down the Strait of Juan de Fuca to be magnified, stretched, and uplifted. This phenonmena is called Fata Morgana, named by the Italians near the Straits of Messina.

As the sun began to set over Vancouver Island, an interesting phenomena occurred. A halo (actually three of them) formed a bright candle-like glow high above the setting sun. These halos appear to have been caused by a very thin, almost invisible layer of fog droplets reflecting the sunlight.

The sun has set, but the halos remain

Since there is no high pressure over the region currently and thus humidity remains high, there is plenty of microscopic water droplets available to refract light.

It sure was nice to finally see a sunset! Happy Summer Solstice everyone!