Port Angeles has a lot going for it -- a town nestled among stunning natural beauty where "the mountains greet the sea." But now it can also lay claim to being the coolest town on the West Coast.
I'm not just saying that because it's also my hometown, I have the weather data to back it up.
The average annual high temperature in Port Angeles is just 56.6 degrees, colder than any other town here on the West Coast (not counting weather stations in the high mountainous areas, otherwise, I'd probably be crowing about Mt. Rainier's Camp Muir).
The research idea comes thanks to my parents, who came back to Port Angeles nearly 20 years ago after my dad retired from the Coast Guard and now live right on the bluff on the west end of town. Our family is somewhat unusual in that no one is a big fan of too-warm weather; we're all most comfortable in the 50s and 60s than the 80s (save for my sister who is more the 80s type. Not sure where she got that from...) so it makes sense they would live in a spot where 80s are about as rare as someone driving the length of Seattle's Mercer Street without changing lanes at least twice.
So my dad loves to call and brag on warm summer days here in Seattle when we're well into the 70s...or 80s...or -- gasp -- those few days in the 90s that he's standing in his backyard with a sweatshirt on as the marine breeze has kicked up and his home weather station right on the bluff is actually registering a wind chill in the upper 40s. (For example: When Seattle on Aug. 5 was 86 in the evening, his backyard was 53 with a 48 wind chill.)
My parents' backyard in Port Angeles: The coldest place in the Lower 48 in the summer?!?
My first thought would be: "Is my dad experiencing the coldest weather in the lower 48 United States right now?" Someone standing at Destruction Island or Tattoosh Island probably would have a beef, as would someone on the beach at Ocean Shores but I'm guessing if it was in the low 50s and windy, they'd be someplace warm and wouldn't be outside chatting with their son on the phone.
But it got me to wondering -- you'd think the Washington coastal towns would have the coldest annual average high temperatures due to their proximity to the chilly Pacific Ocean waters and northern latitude, but where would Port Angeles and its spot further inland yet right along the Strait of Juan de Fuca rank?
It turns out: No. 1! -- at least, on the West Coast. (Take that, Sequim, and your weather-grabbing headlines for stuff like: "We get 300 days of sun and only 18 inches of rain a year from the Olympic Rain Shadow.")
Here are the average annual highs for towns on the West Coast that have available weather climate data from NOAA and the Western Regional Climate Center:
* Data from Whidbey Isl. NAS right on water. Actual town of Oak Harbor is further inland and warmer
** Only 10 years of data. *** Not an official station
At first, I was hoping Port Angeles might be the national (well, lower 48) champ in coldest annual high temperature, since much of the rest of the nation bakes at 20-30 degrees hotter in the summer. But it turns out many towns in the upper Midwest are colder overall because their arctic blasts of a winter more than offset their hot summers. Towns like Marquette, Mich. and International Falls and Dultuh in Minnesota have annual average high temps in the upper 40s. Glasgow, Mont. was the coldest town I found west of the Rockies at 54.0.
But why is P.A. so cool in the summer? Like the coast, it has a front row seat to our "natural air conditioning." High pressure is a summer staple in the northeastern Pacific Ocean, while rising air caused by the day's heating inland creates lower pressure over the I-5 corridor and Eastern Washington. Thus the near daily air flow is off the chilly ocean and Strait of Juan de Fuca waters (temps 52-55) to the west and into town.
While the strength of this flow dictates how hot Seattle and the Puget Sound area will be -- a strong flow and it's in the 70s; a weak flow like this summer has featured many times and we're into the 80s -- even just a trickle of marine air is enough to keep the coast and P.A.in the 60s to low 70s.
But in being the West Coast champ, I thought for sure the reason Port Angeles would be cooler than the coast was because on days when we have an offshore east wind, the coast bakes just as hot as the interior -- Forks especially -- because as the east wind sinks down the western slopes of the Olympic Mountains, it compresses and heats up. Many times during a Western Washington heat wave, Forks can be the hottest town in the west -- case in point they hit 91 on July 16 when Seattle was only 88.
Port Angeles? Just 78. While Port Angeles warms on those east wind days as well, they don't get the warming boost from the Olympics -- and still get a little cooling off the Strait.
But then I went to look at how much cooler Port Angeles was than the others on the coast in the heart of summer and -- it turns out that's not when the town asserts itself as the coldest around -- it's actually warmer than the coast in early summer, then much cooler in the late summer.
But it's the winter where the town makes its mark.
Here are some monthly average highs for select towns around the West:
(Look at the poor folks in Eureka, home of the never-ending summer marine layer, which probably qualifies as the coldest summer around.)
The coast is relatively warmer in the winter because the ocean maintains its ~50-55 degree readings, only now it's a warming effect from the 40s that are common inland.
But in the fall, winter and spring, Port Angeles doesn't get the west wind as much - which would also act as a moderating force. Winds are now sometimes out of the southeast in response to passing low pressure centers offshore; other times they're out of the east or even northeast which brings cold air from the Fraser River Valley (at least in the late fall and winter).
Either way, Port Angeles gets more of a colder, interior-like winter where they don't get the water's moderating effects, but a more marine-cooled summer when they do get the benefit of the ocean breezes.
Add it all up for the year and Port Angeles comes out on top (or, is that the bottom?)
Maybe the town can whip up some sweatshirts proclaiming the fact. At least you'd know they'd be worn year-round!