If you’re a fan of the book and television series “Game of Thrones,” then you’re more than likely familiar with the phrase, “Winter is Coming.”
On Bainbridge Island, and throughout the Pacific Northwest, winter is coming indeed. All you have to do is look outside and see the leaves changing color on our beautiful palette of deciduous trees: maples, oaks, beeches, locust, you name it. The island has stands of coniferous trees, from Douglas firs to red and yellow Cedars to Hemlocks, and any number of pines, but the number of broad leaf trees is really quite impressive as well.
Drive or bike around the island as I did recently and you’ll notice a veritable array of colors dotting the landscape, all from deciduous trees that have turned from green to yellow, red, scarlet and rust, or are in the process of doing so. This yearly miracle of nature occurs as summer fades into fall, and our days start getting shorter, with less sunlight emanating from above. This slow moving change is a signal for the leaf to prepare for winter and to stop making chlorophyll – the stuff that keeps leaves green. Once this happens, the green color starts to fade and is replaced by the reds, oranges, and yellows that become the brilliant and awe-aspiring palette we’re now witnessing.
The fall foliage – as it is called in many regions of the country – is more prominent in the Rocky Mountain states, in the Upper Midwest, and of course, back east in places like Maine, Vermont and Upstate New York. For more info, check out this map: https://smokymountains.com/fall-foliage-map/.
According to the foliage experts, Western Washington is experiencing only a “patchy” state of color peak-ness compared to other places. But if you listen to our local weather broadcasters (my personal favorite is Shannon O’Donnell on KOMO News, Channel 4), they are telling a slightly different story.
O’Donnell, for example, says the colder weather we’ve had this past month has made for some amazing leaf displays around these parts. I agree. The foliage on the island, for sure, seems a bit brighter and more intense than in years past. The rains (and wind) we are, or will be, experiencing over the next several days likely will bat down some leaves and blow others off our favorite trees, but hopefully when the sun does reappear there will be some color to admire and appreciate.
While fall definitely has us in its grip, with our typical early winter not far behind, we appear to be facing another La Nina season. According to our friends at Google, La Niña is a shift in weather patterns that occurs every two to seven years, caused by strong westerly trade winds that essentially “upwell” cooler ocean waters in the eastern Pacific. The cool ocean waters push the polar jet stream north, bringing colder temperatures our way, and sometimes-heavy rains and flooding to Washington and Oregon.
The upside to this weather phenomenon is we residents of the Pacific Northwest will likely witness an increased snow pack in the mountains and an end to what was shaping up over the summer months into a prolonged drought. The flip side for our neighbors in California – especially in the Central Valley and So Cal – is that the rains will likely not reach them and the mega drought will continue. What’s more, La Nina is likely to cause more hurricanes in the southeast, which is never a good thing.
As Mark Twain once quipped, “Everyone talks about the weather, but no one ever does anything about.” All the discussion about Climate Change notwithstanding (and no one knows for certain yet whether La Ninas or El Ninos are being enhanced by human activity or not), the weather is still front and center in our lives. It’s why one of the first questions we ask ourselves each day is, what’s it like outside?
Winter is coming, but before it does enjoy the falling leaves first!
Interested in how weather patterns may be affected by Climate Change? Check out: https://research.noaa.gov/article/ArtMID/587/ArticleID/2685/New-research-volume-explores-future-of-ENSO-under-influence-of-climate-change
*Images by Kevin Dwyer and John Benjes