Mules Help With Weather Experiment in Olympic National Park

The Olympic Mountains Experiment (OLYMPEX) measures precipitation and help NASA fine-tune new weather satellites. Mules get the equipment into remote areas.
The sun breaks through storm clouds on Second Beach in Olympic National Park.

The sun breaks through storm clouds on Second Beach in Olympic National Park.

Fall and winter are the rainy seasons in Olympic and helpful mules are packing weather equipment including rain gauges into the backcountry. It's part of the Olympic Mountains Experiment (OLYMPEX) which will measure precipitation and help NASA fine-tune new weather satellites.

Satellites observe weather hundreds of miles above earth, no small feat. To verify how accurate they are, NASA will be measuring actual precipitation and weather from the ground and compare the two.

Scientists use mules to transport weather equipment to remote areas of Olympic National Park. The animals can make it into protected wilderness where vehicles can't reach.

The idea is "to connect the dots between what we're seeing on the surface and what we're seeing from space and what we're seeing in the clouds," said Walt Petersen, NASA's deputy project scientist for ground validation.

Olympic seems to be the perfect location for such an undertaking. The park gets Pacific Ocean storms and mountain blizzards. The storms will be monitored with weather radar from the ground and weather balloons, and the mountain snowpack will be measured with new cameras next to snow poles.

"We're rooting for the rainy weather. We're excited and we're a little nervous," said Robert Houze, a UW professor of atmospheric sciences and principal investigator. "Even after years of preparing, you're still dependent on nature giving us what we want to look at."

The experiment will take place from November 2015 through February 2016.



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Cross-country skiing on Hurricane Ridge. Photo by NPS

Winter in Olympic National Park

The park is open 24-hours year round. Some roads, campgrounds and other facilities close during the winter season, but the park itself is always open!

Rainbow over Hood Canal

Average Weather for Olympic National Park

In summer, highs are around 65 to 75°F; weather is often sunny from July through September. In winter, heavy snow accumulates in the mountains.

Rainbow over Hood Canal

Rainfall and Tides in Olympic National Park

Olympic has a reputation for rain—and true, parts of the peninsula receive 12 feet of rain every year, but summer brings warm, dry weather.

General locations of ferries to Olympic National Park

Where is Olympic National Park?

This park is in the northwest corner of the United States in Washington state on the Olympic Peninsula. It contains Pacific Ocean beaches and mountains.

Waterfall in Olympic National Park in autumn

Autumn in Olympic National Park

Elk bugling to show off to their harems. Huge colored maple leaves twice as big as your hand. Eagles, otters, and bobcats feeding on spawning salmon.

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As migrating birds return and wildflowers bloom in the lowland forests, employees at the park are spring cleaning and preparations for main visitor season.

2015 Paradise Fire in Olympic National Park.

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The park’s wild coastline features both easy-access beaches and remote wilderness. Camp on the beaches year-round.

Ferry to Bainbridge Island

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The shortest route from the Seattle area to Olympic National Park requires taking a boat from Washington State Ferries. However, it may not be the fastest route.