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What is a Rainshadow?

Sequim lies in the rainshadow of the Olympic Mountains. Rainshadows occur, in simplest terms, because cool air holds less moisture than warm air. When moisture-laden air attempts to travel over a mountain range, it rises in altitude and subsequently cools. At this cooler temperature, the air can then hold less moisture, so the excess moisture condenses (just as dew does in the evening) and falls down as precipitation. Rainshadows can be found east of the Cascade mountain range in Washington and Oregon and east of the Sierras in California and Nevada.

It is very common on a summer afternoon in Sequim to see enormous rain clouds billowing up on the far side of the Olympics, but they rarely succeed in making their way over the range. Instead, they condense, precipitating over 200 inches annually on the southwestern side of the Olympic mountains, creating the Hoh, Queets and Quinault rain forests. Sequim, by contrast, receives an average of 16 inches per year. In fact, this green, agricultural community only became viable as farmland after an elaborate system of irrigation ditches were established in the late 19th century, an event that is celebrated annually during the Irrigation Festival, the longest continuously running festival in the state of Washington.