March 02, 2011

NW Hurricane and the Secrets of Solander

The big storm moved up the Northwest coast today and it did not disappoint, winds gusted to 116 mph at Mt. Baker and to 90 knots (104 mph) at Solander Island. Here over the lowlands, lots of places over Puget Sound gusted to 40-50 mph, over Northwest Washington to 50-70 mph, and even stronger wind hit the coast, particularly the coasts of Vancouver Is. and Oregon. Cape Arago on the central Oregon coast reached 64 knots (75 mph). There were scattered power outages throughout the region and I had to carry my bicycle across a huge fallen tree to get home!

A beautiful storm from are the infrared and visible images at 10 AM this morning. At this point the storm was moving past the northwest tip of Vancouver Is.. The central pressure at this time was roughly 965 mb--the forecast was really quite excellent.

Just a reminder--the visible image shows what you would see if you were looking down from space. The infrared (IR) image tells you the temperature of the clouds and surface--with cool temperatures shown by white and warmer temps by dark shades, with grey in between. Since temperature generally declines with height this tells you a lot about the height of clouds.

The strongest winds near sea level was at Solander Island, located off the northwest section of Vancouver Isl. (see map)

Here is a picture of the barren islet, a place with no trees.

Take a look at the winds there:
The sustained winds (SP) reached 72 knots and the highest wind over the hour, the peak wind (PK) reached at amazing 90 knots (104 mph).

Now let me be honest with you. Solander has its issues...and is known for reporting crazy high winds--higher the nearby locations. Many of us suspect that terrain-induced acceleration gives the winds a boost there. First, the anemometer is on top of the terrain...and flow would be accelerated as it moved up the windward cliffs. Second, the island is just offshore of a protruding headland of fairly high terrain--which may accelerate the winds in the region (like the strong winds around the edges of big building!) The following two terrain maps illustrated that headland.
The red "A" shows where the island is.


  1. Solander Island offers unique weather for the small boat cruiser even in the summer. A few years ago we were circumnavigating Vancouver Island in a counter clockwise direction in our 19 foot powerboat. It was a location I worried about during our planning and trip. The early morning we passed Solander was overcast and drizzling with a brisk northwesterly swell. We were so relieved to get by the island.

  2. We always fished Solander when we went to Quatsino Sound. Lots of lingcod and halibut around that area. We were always there in July, but even then, winds were consistenly 35-40 on most summer afternoons. It's a very windy place, and looking up into the mountains is truly gorgeous. I love Winter Harbour and Port Alice, B.C. Many a summers spent up there.

  3. With yesterday's storm at Mt. Baker we are now above 200 inches and the snow keeps on coming!

  4. Yes, the Brooks Peninsula is powerful and magical place. Famous ecologically and meteorologically.I believe it is a refugio and was not glaciated.

    Sailors know it is the choke point of that stretch of coast, and though I haven't yet done it myself, I've spoken to many who say they pass by their quickly and gratefully. Power boaters can zoom around, but when you are going 6 knots it is a hairy place anytime of year.

  5. Thanks for making weather watching so much fun

  6. Cliff says "Second, the island is just offshore of a protruding headland of fairly high terrain--which may accelerate the winds in the region". Coastal sailors are all too familiar with the cape effect, where the winds accelerate as they pass a headland.

  7. Cliff, sailors are very familiar the acceleration of local winds passing a headland. The location of Solander Island near that major headland should be expected to produce much higher wind speeds.

  8. Definitely the winds are often stronger at Solander than anywhere else on the west coast of VI.

    They probably don't represent the actual wind speed over a large area. But they may be a pretty good representation of what the small boat mariner will endure when rounding the tip of Brooks Peninsula.

    I kayaked past there some years ago - passing almost within spitting distance of Solander was definitely the wildest part of our trip.


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