Over winter break from my PhD program in Arizona, I traveled to Washington State to visit my partner’s family and see old friends. While there, the strong El Nino event affecting global weather this year contributed to persistent high pressure in the region– causing unusual clear blue skies for days on end. The rare winter clarity provided unprecedented views of the region’s beautiful glaciers.
Washington State is home to some of the country’s youngest and tallest mountains– the Cascade and Olympic mountain ranges. The Olympic Range was created by the movement of the Cascadia subduction zone millions of years ago, while the Cascade range, made up of active volcanic peaks, is driven by the same tectonic subduction. Puget Sound and islands in it, which separate the two mountain ranges, are the remnants of glacial valleys and moraines that were created during the last ice age.
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Every city has its slang. In Seattle, Washington, and throughout the Puget Sound region, the phrase “the mountain is out” is part of the everyday weather lexicon. Seattleites refer to “the mountain” and no one doubts which mountain is being discussed. Towering 14,410 feet above sea level, Mount Rainier is the most glaciated peak in the contiguous U.S and can be seen from far and wide.
There are 25 major glaciers on Mount Rainier. According to the US National Park Service, “the Emmons Glacier has the largest area (4.3 square miles) and the Carbon Glacier has the lowest terminus altitude (3,600 feet) of all glaciers in the contiguous 48 states.”
“Is the mountain out?” is another way to say, “is Rainier visible?” or simply “is it sunny?” Especially in Seattle, where the weather is notoriously overcast and grey, clear skies reveal a beautiful mountain-scape.
Using photos from the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency, Sameer Halai created a time-lapse video that captured the view from Seattle’s Kerry Park at 3 p.m. daily. He found that the mountain was “out” 83 times during 2012, roughly once every 4 to 5 days.