Cliff’s notes
Cliff Mass, in his new book, explains our region’s peculiar atmospheric conditions, from lenticular clouds to rare but spectacular lightning storms.

On June 24, 1947, a Boise businessman was flying his CallAir A-2 past Mount Rainier when he saw nine gleaming “saucerlike” objects darting toward Mount Adams. His account sparked an enduring UFO craze. But UW atmospheric scientist Cliff Mass says the saucers were probably just an especially speedy stack of lenticular (lens-shaped) “mountain wave clouds.”

How and why these weird clouds form over local volcanoes is just one of many mysteries solved in Mass’s richly illustrated new Weather of the Pacific Northwest. After explaining our wild, mild local weather on KUOW’s Weekday through what seems like a full turn of the North Pacific Decadal Oscillation, Mass finally got it down on paper.

Among his book’s other lightning flashes of disconcerting info: The only reason we don’t have hurricanes in the Northwest is we don’t call them that. The 1962 Columbus Day storm, with 120-mile-per-hour winds gusting to 179 offshore, qualified as Category 3—like 2005’s Hurricane Rita, but much wider. The December 2006 Hanukkah Eve storm knocked out power to 1.3 million customers.

And the 1993 Inauguration Day storm, which also topped 100 miles per hour and plunged 870,000 customers into darkness, occurred the last time a Democrat took the White House. Mass doesn’t speculate as to why so many Northwest storms happen on holidays—but we’re hoping this Inauguration Day (January 20) is storm free.

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