Oregon

Oregon Overnight, Fires, and Pyrocumulus

The Three Sisters, Oregon Cascade Mountains

The Three Sisters, Oregon Cascade Mountains

On Saturday my parents and I drove down to visit my grandparents in central Oregon, where my sister met up with us as well. We had to take a longer-than-normal way down, as a wildfire in south central Washington had forced the highway over Satus Pass to be shut down. Sadly the weather in the Northwest has been prime lately for fires, and we saw a fair amount of smoke around on the drive down and back.

It was a quick overnight trip to the ranch, but good to go down there in the midst of this larger whirlwind trip. Here are a few other photos I took there of the lovely views.

Mt Jefferson

Mt Jefferson

Black Butte (left) and Three Fingered Jack

Black Butte (left) and Three Fingered Jack

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Coming back, as we crested the last ridge before looking down into Kittitas Valley (where my parents live), we got a good look at the smoke from a new fire growing on the opposite ridge.

What I was most fascinated with was the towering pyrocumulus clouds.

Pyrocumulus cloud growing above a smoke column northeast of Ellensburg, Washington

Pyrocumulus cloud growing above a smoke column northeast of Ellensburg, Washington

The basic principle behind cloud formation is water vapor condensation onto tiny particles called cloud condensation nuclei (CCN). These CCN could be sand, dust, salt, … or in this case ash.

A fire in effect seeds the atmosphere, and the hot air above the flames can generate rapid and robust convection (rising air) that results in a puffy-looking (cumulus) cloud if there is enough moisture in the air.

Such cumulus clouds that form as a result of fires and volcanoes are known as pyrocumulus, or even pyrocumulonimbus if they grow large enough to produce a heavy shower or thunderstorm.

While the phenomenon is not uncommon, I had rarely seen such a well-defined example. A visible satellite loop from yesterday shows a series of pyrocumulus forming over the fire’s hotspot, and then moving off to the east (due to upper-level winds) as others form over the fire.

1-km visible satellite loop of Washington State, from 7am to 9pm local (PDT) on 28 July 2013. Counties are outlined in purple. Courtesy of the University of Washington - http://www.atmos.washington.edu/cgi-bin/list.cgi?vis1km.

1-km visible satellite loop of Washington State, from 7am to 9pm local (PDT) on 28 July 2013. Counties are outlined in purple. Courtesy of the University of Washington – http://www.atmos.washington.edu/cgi-bin/list.cgi?vis1km.

The fire in the northeast corner of Kittitas County (center of the state) is evident from the eastward-moving smoke plume. Later in the afternoon, about 3pm (2200 UTC), you can start to see the series of whitish knobs forming on top of the fire. These are the pyrocumulus. They really start to explode around 5 to 6pm (0000-0200 UTC).

As an aside you can also see the fire in south central Washington, although there are not so many pronounced pyrocumulus clouds on the smoke plume.

There may have been a little bit of rain falling from the cloud, but a radar loop yesterday showed a stationary spot of reflectivity that was in the location of the fire. Fires are not always visible on radar, but sometimes they are large enough for the ash particles to reflect the radar beam and appear to be stationary “rain” showers.

I didn’t save a loop, but here’s a single image showing the fire last night.

RadarScope image of the Pendleton, Oregon radar reflectivity. Blue circle shows my location, and the green blob to my northeast is the fire.

RadarScope image of the Pendleton, Oregon radar reflectivity. The blue circle shows my location, and the greenish blob to my northeast is the fire.

Ok, nerd moment over. For now. 🙂

Here’s hoping the firefighters get some better weather for fighting the fires, and everyone and their homes stay safe.

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Categories: Oregon, United States, Washington, Weather | 4 Comments

More (Ocean) Is Always Better

Me and my sister, at Ecola State Park, with Cannon Beach below us

Me and my sister, at Ecola State Park, with Cannon Beach below us

What do people who have been living on a tiny island in the middle of the ocean do when they go on vacation? Go to the beach, of course!

This morning my sister and I (or rather I) laid low as I was nursing a bit of a cold, but then in the afternoon we decided to take the short trip to the coast to see some favorite spots on the north Oregon coast, as well as to finish up the shopping I had started yesterday for cold weather New Zealand clothes.

It was a beautiful blue sky day, and about as pleasant as it gets there on the coast. I was only a bit chilly at times, thanks to my thinned tropical blood, as you can guess from the differences in what my sister and I were wearing. I was also not quite brave enough this time to wade in the water, as many accustomed to the colder waters were doing, especially when I was not quite feeling 100%.

Fort Stevens State Park

Fort Stevens State Park

One of the places we stopped at was new to me, Fort Stevens State Park. Caitlin had been there before with some friends, but had not seen the shipwreck as exposed as it was today.

Fort Stevens State Park

Fort Stevens State Park

The Peter Iredale was a barque that ran aground while sailing from Mexico to Portland, Oregon late in 1906. Everyone on board survived, but the ship was badly damaged and eventually the remains were left alone.

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Bow of the Peter Iredale wreck. It was also a fine day for flying kites!

We later drove further south to Ecola State Park, a great lookout point over one of our family’s favorite vacation spots, Cannon Beach.

Cannon Beach with Haystack Rock and the Needles, from Ecola State Park

Cannon Beach with Haystack Rock and the Needles in the distance, from Ecola State Park

We also had fine viewing conditions from the park out to one of my favorite lighthouses, Tillamook Rock Lighthouse, fondly known as “Terrible Tilly”. I got a book about this light over 10 years ago and was fascinated by its story.

Terrible Tilly

Terrible Tilly

Tilly was built in the late 1800s, on a tiny rock (yes, much smaller than Kwaj…only about an acre, if that!) just over a mile out to sea, and about 20 miles south of the mouth of the Columbia River that separates the states of Oregon and Washington.

After many years of being the most expensive lighthouse to maintain, through many ferocious Pacific storms, Tilly was retired in the 1950s and the private owners converted it to a columbarium (storage for urns with cremated remains). The only way to reach the lighthouse is by helicopter, and sadly it is not open to the public.

Tillamook Rock Lighthouse, from Ecola State Park

Tillamook Rock Lighthouse, from Ecola State Park

It was wonderful to spend even a brief time looking out over the terrific Pacific, especially as I had just come from an island some 5,000 miles southwest of where I stood, and would soon be traveling to another Pacific destination some 7,500 miles or so away.

For the first time, though, I was at least initially more taken by views of the forests and mountains, as it’s been so long since seeing good ones of both. My sister teased me that the trees around Ecola State Park that I took a couple photos of before finishing my ocean shots were probably not used to being photographed by most tourists.

Average trees on average hills in Ecola State Park, with Tilly at my back...but still just happy to see coniferous forests and elevation!

Average trees on average hills in Ecola State Park, with Tilly at my back…but still just happy to see forests and elevation!

We’ll probably go check out more forests and/or mountains in the next day or two, but I am glad we were able to see one of my favorite and most frequented spots on the coast. 🙂

For the whole album, including a few more photos from the coast, check out this Flickr set.

Categories: Oregon, United States | 2 Comments

I’m Baaaaack!!!

My sis and me, tired, hungry, and a bit bedraggled, but overjoyed to see each other at the airport!

My sis and me, tired, hungry, and a bit bedraggled, but overjoyed to see each other at the airport!

Over 5,000 miles later…I made it!!

Emotions overwhelmed me again as I walked outside to the airplane steps at the Kwajalein airport a couple of days ago. Leaving behind people and places that had meant so much to me (even to the United plane sitting beside my ATI plane, I waved at both sides to a good friend who had just arrived back from vacation), I tried to both soak in the last moments and shut out the feelings of sadness.

Just as I got to the steps it started to sprinkle, and I said aloud, “a fitting farewell for Kwaj” (to which one of the airport workers said “yep!”). The sun then came back out though, for a fine last view of the island. As we taxied down the runway, I saw one of the weather station techs outside getting the 00Z balloon ready to launch, and he waved at my plane, not even knowing if I could see him. I managed to get a window seat on the DC8, so I did see him though, and that made me both happy and sad again.

When the plane turned around and kicked it into high gear, I couldn’t help the tears streaming down. I cried until I could no longer see the island (which was a bit longer than you might think, as I craned my neck back for so long it hurt), and then settled back with a sigh to watch the rest of the islands of Kwajalein Atoll disappear into the blue of the sea and the sky.

The flight to Hickam (air force base at Pearl Harbor in Honolulu) was uneventful and seemed to go by fairly quickly. At the baggage claim I said a quick goodbye to a couple of Kwaj friends and shared a taxi to the Ala Moana Hotel.

Part of the view from my 9th floor balcony

Part of the view from my 9th floor balcony

This time even with three large bags (quite hard for me to deal with, but doable) and a backpack, I somehow managed to make it up the elevator and to my room on the first try (might have something to do with someone else inserting their key card and then me pushing my button after his).

The other part of the view from my balcony

The other part of the view from my balcony

After settling in a bit, I walked over to the mall across the street for dinner. Every time I leave Kwaj I feel a bit overwhelmed at first by the traffic and “civilization”. One of the first sights to greet my eye was a trolley full of Asians with the driver leading in a hearty rendition of “YMCA” (maybe having something to do with the tour group just having passed the Y. They all looked so happy I couldn’t help smiling and waving back.

I got a good night of sleep and was up at a decent hour for breakfast before taking a shuttle to the airport.

Open breezeway at HNL

Open breezeway at HNL

I had a direct flight to Portland that was only a few minutes longer than my flight the previous day to Hickam, but somehow it felt an hour or so longer (perhaps having something to do with it being a crowded commercial flight instead of 15 people on a private carrier being treated nearly like first class).

Approaching PDX (Columbia River on the left, Mount Hood on the right)

Approaching PDX (Columbia River on the left, Mount Hood on the right)

My first glimpse of land was dramatic; coming out of the clouds, I saw forests of dark green Oregon conifers, and I thought I’d rarely seen a more beautiful sight. Barring the dying Black Hills of South Dakota (forests turned to brown and orange thanks to the pine beetles) that I saw a couple months ago while storm chasing, I hadn’t seen evergreen forests in two years.

I saw pasturelands next, against the beautiful backdrop of the Cascade Mountains, with Jefferson and Hood being most prominent.

Next came cities and the Willamette River, running down to the Mighty Columbia, with my home state of Washington on the other side. I also then saw Mount Adams and St Helens.

At this point the journey ended almost as emotional as it had begun. After two years, my reunion with the Pacific Northwest was a wonderful one, and I laughed and shed a few more tears of joy and yet still sadness for the life I had left behind on a tiny rock in the middle of the Pacific.

My sister and I were then happily reunited at the Portland airport, and after we got my bags and went to dinner, we made it safely back to her home in Kelso (southwest Washington).

May the next 2.5 weeks of visiting family and friends, sightseeing, and shopping and preparing for my New Zealand adventure go slowly and fantastically!

Categories: Hawaii, Kwajalein, Living Abroad, Marshall Islands, Oregon, United States, Washington | Leave a comment

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