The Pacific Northwest is known for its warm, dry summers and cool, stormy winters.
Winter weather on Whidbey Island is dominated by the Olympic Mountains a mere 30 miles to the southwest, across the Strait of Juan de Fuca. The Olympics “intercept” incoming Pacific storms, generate tremendous lift and torrential rain on their windward side, and create a huge downdraft to their lee, over Whidbey Island. This lee trough is often seen as a small, swirling area of slightly lower pressure that simultaneously inhibits rainfall (NAS Whidbey Island receives less than half the annual rainfall of Seattle) and produces consistent near-gale-force winds out of the southeast. Thus, the same storm system that produces light winds and steady rain over much of the Puget Sound region typically yields only a light, windblown drizzle at NAS Whidbey Island.
Of course it does rain, and there are plenty of storms that come from due west or south that are not affected by the Olympic Mountains. In fact, NAS Whidbey Island is a favored rendezvous for cold British Columbian air and warm Pacific moisture, resulting in occasionally heavy snowfalls. The warm air always wins, however, so the snow is never around for long. Expect winter temperatures predominantly in the 40s, though brief cold snaps in the 15 to 25 degree range are not uncommon.
With weeks on end of dry, sunny weather, cool winds and as much as 17 hours of daylight, Whidbey Island summers are worth the wait, even if you have to wait till mid-July. Fog is common in the morning hours but almost always gives way to bright sun by the afternoon and temperatures in the low 70s, making summer the favorite time of year to explore the mountains, waterways, forests and beaches of this Pacific Northwest gem.
Every second counts in a disaster, so planning and preparation can be lifesavers.
Two good local resources for emergency preparation are the Island County Department of Emergency Management (https://islandcountywa.gov/DEM) and City of Oak Harbor Disaster Preparedness (http://www.oakharbor.org/page.cfm?pageId=98).
The websites give residents, communities, public safety professionals, businesses and schools valuable information and resources on how to deal with potential emergencies. The following are considered significant hazards in Island County.
Whidbey Islanders live with earthquake risk. The Seattle fault, a zone of east-west thrust faults, lies under Puget Sound and Seattle. The Cascadia fault runs along the coast; natural records tell geologists that the Cascadia fault ruptures every 500 to 600 years in powerful 8- to 9-magnitude earthquakes; its last one was Jan. 26, 1700. Scientists projected that a 6.7 earthquake along the Seattle fault could injure and kill thousands, cut all major highways for months due to collapsed bridges, sever utility service, collapse or damage buildings to the point that they are unusable, and cripple port facilities. Besides the shaking, collateral effects can include landslides, surface fault ruptures and soil liquefaction, all of which can cause injury or property damage. Contact your local city or county government for information on how to be prepared. More information and ideas on how to stay safe and to secure the contents of your home can be found at www.islandcountywa.gov/DEM/Pages/Earthquake.aspx.
Only the very north part of Whidbey Island is bedrock, and most of its bluff slopes are layers of unconsolidated sediment from glacial or interglacial periods that can break loose due to wave action, heavy rainfall, removal of vegetation and earthquakes. Of Whidbey Island’s 221 miles of shoreline, or 57 percent, or 112 miles is considered unstable. Where landslides have occurred in the past, they probably will occur in the future, and generous building setbacks from Whidbey Island bluff edges are wise. Go to www.islandcountywa.gov/DEM/Pages/Landslide.aspx for more information.
The Pacific Coast, Strait of Juan de Fuca, Puget Sound and large lakes are all at risk from tsunamis, trains of powerful earthquake-
triggered waves that threaten people and property along shorelines. Everything in low-lying areas can be swept away in moments by a tsunami, so residents should work out escape routes to high ground for themselves and their families in advance and pay immediate heed to warnings and directives from authorities. To familiarize yourself with Island County’s tsunami evacuation routes and the tsunami hazard map, go to www.islandcountywa.gov/DEM/Pages/Maps.aspx.
The threat of wildfire is very real for those living near wildlands or enjoying wilderness recreation in Island County. All dwellings should be designed and landscaped with wildfire safety in mind — for example, maintain a 30-foot fire break around your home, keep roof and gutters clean, and clear flammable vegetation from around and under your structures. For more information, visit www.islandcountywa.gov/DEM/Pages/Wildfire.aspx.
Washington has experienced violent wind storms in the past that have killed and injured people, destroyed homes and businesses, knocked out public utilities and left thousands of people without power, sometimes for 10 or more days. More such storms are likely. Have a disaster plan and a disaster supplies kit, do not go outside or drive in such high winds, avoid windows and have a corded telephone available: When the power is out, cordless phones don’t work. For more information, visit www.islandcountywa.gov/DEM/Pages/Windstorm.aspx.