Thursday, July 28, 2005

Mt. Rainier's tease

Everyday, when I drive to work on lake Sammamish parkway, I see Mt. Rainier, at least the glaciers. OK, not everyday, but most of the days when the weather is good, and the air is clear. Its majestic glaciers are an awe inspiring and breathtaking sight.

The mountain is about 2-2.5 hrs drive from our house. So, whenever we plan on visiting it, we look for it while driving on lake Sammamish parkway, and if we can see it clearly, we go ahead with our plans. Everytime, we did that, we ended up hitting clouds when we arrive at Paradise or Sunrise. That got me thinking. Is it our luck or some kind of phenomenon in action. I noticed that even if the sky is clear with no clouds in sight, and we can see the Rainier glaciers from miles away, once we get close to the mountain, we hit low lying clouds around the mountain obscuring our view from the closer vista points. Dang. This got me to do some research in basic geography and precipitation, and here is what I found.

The process of formation of clouds on and around mountains is known as orographic lifting. This is the process of cloud formation due to the topological changes, and the movement of air. Air gets lifted due to the topological changes and as it rises, it drops in temperature which spurs condensation, thus forming clouds. Simple, huh. Now that I understand this, I have a special interest in the clouds around Rainier. The next time I visit Rainier, I will be looking forward to clouds rather than their absence.