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Stories that weather can tell
Marlyn Myers started her talk with good news – the coldest day of the year has passed.
According to historical records, Marlyn said, Jan. 3 is when temperatures are lowest.
This fact and many other weather statistics, as well as a few good stories were shared with more than 70 members of the community at the Garden Club’s meeting on Orcas Island microclimates held Jan. 16.
After the Orcas Island Garden Club asked two state climatologists to speak at previous meetings they decided to hear a word from two island weather experts – Garden Club President Maryln and Olga resident John Willis, whose family has been keeping records for more than 120 years. You can read John’s weekly weather recordings in the Sounder.
Marlyn and John, both gifted with the art of storytelling weaved weather into her own tales of romance, trials and family history. Marlyn’s interest in climate was enhanced by a course she took in college. It was also in that class that she met a young man named Don Myers. They had a few things in common: their mothers were both named Dorothy Myers and even their grandmothers shared the same name and birth date. To top it off they both shared a curiosity for the ever-changing nature of the elements and how it could affect their lives. Marlyn in her gardening and Don in his fishing both watched the sky above and followed temperatures to know what to expect and how to react.
“We are impacted by weather, whether we garden, fish or travel,” said Don, also speaking at the meeting. “We need to know what is going on around us.”
When the Myers moved to Orcas, they began gathering weather information and have done so for the past seven years.
At the meeting, Marlyn discussed the rainshadow, which reduces rainfall in the islands compared to Seattle because of our location in reference to the Olympic Mountains. She talked about how weather differs significantly on the various areas of Orcas Island. Olga is different than Eastsound and Deer Harbor can be different from both.
Marlyn told the Sounder last spring that there are two types of soil on Orcas – waterfront with no nutrients and inland soil, which is much better.
“I have a friend who lives on Deer Harbor who has the most beautiful ripe tomatoes, beans and berries,” said Marlyn. “That does not happen where I live.”
To find out what kind of soil you have on your land, you can purchase a pH soil testing from any garden supply store.
Marlyn also gave that friend a rain gauge and was surprised to see how much different rainfall is on Deer Harbor compared to where the Myers live near Rosario.
Marlyn and John also delved into snowstorms of the past, like the storm of 1916 where Orcas had 51 inches of snow in January and February.
Another storm, on Thanksgiving of 1985, left many people without power and John said that people had to cook their turkeys in the fireplace or with a blow torch.
More recently, there was a winter in 2006 that left 15 inches of snow in the middle of the night.
“The rhododendrons didn’t know what happened,” said Marlyn.
For John, the memory of one snowstorm reminded him not only of the harshness of the elements, but a time of strife in his family. In 1950, he was only ten years old when temperatures plummeted to eight below zero and the wind blew fiercely between 70 to 80 miles per hour. His mother and father were both in a sanitarium in Seattle with tuberculosis and he was under the care of his extended family.
“It was a pretty traumatic time,” he said. “Many trees came down and it was so cold.”
The weather is something that not only stirs up darker periods, but is something ingrained in John’s ancestors, a legacy he has helped continue.
John’s grandfather, Cecil Willis, began keeping weather records on Orcas in 1890. The Willis family is one of nine families in the United States who have kept continuous records in the same location for over 100 years and were invited to Washington D.C. in 1990 to be awarded for that achievement. They also found out that they had the distinction of having the longest record without a break.
“We always wondered if anyone used these records,” said John.
It turns out people were paying attention. And judging by the keen audience at the recent meeting – they still are.
For more info about the Garden Club, visit www.orcasislandgardenclub.org.