Making sense of the Northwest's wacky weather

Local weatherman George Miller shares his knowledge about the Northwest's weird climate in a new book. DAMIAN MULINIX photo

PENINSULA - Ever contemplate the vast mysteries of the weather in our area? Wonder why it is so unpredictable? Or even get down right confused by it?

Meteorologist George Miller has dedicated most of his life to solving these enigmas of nature while working for the National Weather Service (NWS). His years of experience and knowledge have led him to writing his first book, "Pacific Northwest Weather, but my barometer says fair."

The title of the book came from a situation that perhaps many people living in Washington and Oregon have experienced. A woman called Miller one day while working for the NWS in Portland and couldn't understand why it was raining outside, yet her barometer said it was fair.

Miller began writing his book, which is set up much like a text book, after beginning to teach a class at Marylhurst University, which is located in the suburbs of Portland, after retiring from the NWS in 1994.

"I thought at that time that I had some aspirations of writing a book and I thought it would force me to do some writing - and it did," said Miller.

The book, which is 172 pages in length, deals with a wide spectrum of topics including weather phenomena like the Columbus Day Storm and the Brookings effect, and also explanations of why clouds form and why it rains so much. Miller has written the book in a way so that even someone with just a casual interest in weather could read it and understand it.

"In the mind, I had it as a text book," said Miller. "But not really so much as a text book as it is for just the lay person. People who aren't going to take a class in weather, but there are a large number of what I call 'weather buffs' out there - people who have an interest in the weather. They might have bought a little home weather station, but not having the background of taking college classes or anything like that."

Miller's love for weather started when he was a boy living in Kelso, where he would scan the newspapers daily to find out if it might snow. When he was in high school and starting his college career at Lower Columbia College in Longview he found himself writing term papers and reports about clouds and such, despite the fact that his original major was forestry. Miller changed his major to meteorology after transferring to the University of Washington, where he completed his four-year degree.

Miller started his professional career with the River Forecast Center in Portland after graduation which lead to a full-time position with the NWS, which at the time was called the Weather Bureau, in 1960. He continued working for the NWS his entire career - 34 years. In that time he worked in Portland, Medford, Denver and Salt Lake City, only to return to Portland in 1982. Says Miller of living outside the Pacific Northwest, "We just didn't really care for Denver or Salt Lake City's climate."

Miller, who lives with his wife in Gresham, is also a part-time resident of the Peninsula, maintaining a home in Surfside, which they try and visit at least a few times a month. His new book isn't the first time Miller has been published either, he has had articles appear in Oregon Coast Magazine, and in national weather journals, some of which have been presented at national and international meteorology conferences.

When asked to divulge the secrets of Northwest weather, Miller says read the book. However, he did reveal a few things you probably didn't know. For example, Miller says that El Nino in the northwest is a myth.

"By definition we don't have El Ninos off the coast of Washington and Oregon," said Miller. "We might have some effects from episodes of El Nino, because they're learning that when we have El Ninos, it has an influence on areas around the globe. But by scientific definition of El Ninos, the Oregon and Washington coasts don't have El Ninos."

Miller also says that most of the weather we have here is because of the ocean and its temperature.

"The cold ocean that we have serves as a moderator of summertime temperatures and also a moderator of winter time temperatures," said Miller. "I mean, if we didn't have the ocean next to us, our climate would be a whole heck of a lot different. It serves to keep us mild in the wintertime - and mild in the summer time."

Millers also tells that Lewis and Clark were probably the first weathermen on the Pacific Northwest, and if perhaps they had stayed a little longer, they might have actually liked it here, rather then it being such a "disappointment".

"I know that when Lewis and Clark were camped here, for several months, they were acutely interested and took very good weather observations while they were here," said Miller. "And their remark was, and still is true today, that when the winds blow from the southeast, it's usually fair and cool. And when the wind blows from the southwest, it's usually stormy and rainy during the wintertime, which is when they were here. They didn't experience a summer at all, they may have thought things a little bit differently."

Miller's book is available at most major book stores such as Barnes and Noble, Borders Books and Amazon.com. It can also be had at local book store Sandpiper Books, which will host a book signing by Miller on Saturday.

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