June 30, 2009

Windy Ellensburg

Ellensburg, just to the east of Snoqualmie Pass (see red A on map), is a really windy place in the summer. I mean windy. A listing of the winds (in knots, 1 knot=1.15 mph) and other weather is show below for the 24 h ending 1 PM today (times are in UTC--same as GMT). Strong northwesterly winds were evident (270 is west, 360 is north, etc), with gust to 34 knots (39 mph). And this occurs day after day. I have also included a plot of the sustained (2 minute average) winds and gusts for the last few days. Day after day of this stuff.

Why is Ellensburg so windy? The topographic map below shows the reason...a weakness in the Cascades (called Stampede Gap). During the summer, pressure is higher on the western side of the Cascades and lower over the heated basin of eastern Washington, with the pressure difference increasing during the day as temperatures soar over eastern Washington. Air accelerates from high to low pressure and it finds the weakest location...in this case Stampede Gap, where the terrain is only 3-4k feet high. Air accelerates through the gap and spreads out over the Kittitas Valley, with northwest winds on many summer days gusting to 30-40 mph.
This area is so windy that it is an excellent place for wind turbines....and you can see several wind projects on the ridges above the valley (such as the Wild Horse project on Whiskey Dick mountain). The strong NW winds are also apparent in some parts of Cle Elum, including the trendy Suncadia Resort. I stayed there one night....they should call the place Windcadia Resort. The golfers there were having a tough time, with their balls flying in unexpected directions in the gusty air above the ground.

If you want more on this topic, I have a section in my book, which also describes similar effects in the Columbia Gorge.


  1. Having lived in Ellensburg for many years, the wind blows all the time. Especially in the spring time.

  2. Thanks Cliff... insightful as always. I visited the PSE Renewable Energy Center at the Wild Horse wind farm last Friday and I was impressed with how much the blades of the turbines flex in the wind. By the time I left there, around 5 p.m. it was feeling pretty windy. I wondered why it was such a great spot... thanks for the explanation! For anyone who wants to get closer to a big turbine, visit the Center near the top of Old Vantage Highway (check the operating hours before you go!) It's pretty cool!

  3. Great post on winds farms and really nice photo. Did you take the great picture?

  4. I really like the clouds in the photo. So dreamy. What are they called?

  5. Thanks, Cliff, for showing off Puget Sound Energy's Wild Horse Wind and Solar Facility.

    We're the second-largest utility owner of wind power in the nation, in part because of the great wind resource you describe.

    Our Renewable Energy Center is open daily, with directions at www.pse.com

    - Andy Wappler
    Puget Sound Energy

  6. I am a retired geographer in Ellensburg who has been observing local winds for more than 55 years. During approximately the past decade our winds have been more frequently occurring at sustained high velocities than in previous decades. Wind speeds in excess of 35 mph have become much more common. Gusts in the 40’s are also more frequent.
    Is there any record in the regional atmospheric data of the Pacific Northwest during the past decade that may help to account for this change?

  7. I just read this section of your book last night. How fitting.

  8. Thanks, Cliff. When I am not at Holden Village, I work the reference desk at the Ellensburg Public Library. Many of us in Eburg do not know this. I will pass this on.

  9. Guess it's time to move to the eastside and open up that kite shop

  10. With all that wind power, I've often wondered why there aren't more turbines in that area.

    Also, the old blade turbines seemed to really whip around at high speed and the new one's much slower. The old one's used to be bat & bird chopping machines. But these new one's look like it would be pretty hard for a bird or bat to get hit. Has the bird/bat-o-matic problem been fixed?

  11. Interesting that the winds have increased in velosity and duration. Being from a forth generation family born and raised in Ellensburg, I left in the late sixty's, swearing I'd never move to another windy place. Then I spent 10 years at the mouth of the Columbia Gorge, and over 30 years now in Skagway Alaska. Go figure? Family members still in the valley are considering moving elsewhere because of the wind.i still love the valley and do visit, but with more wind and the influx of Seattle folks are detergents to ever consider moving back. Lots of good memories though


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