When you imagine lush fields of lavender, the first place that comes to mind is often southern France, which has led the world in commercial production of these fragrant flowering bushes for many years. Despite this long-held dominance, lavender can be grown throughout the world as long as the climate is sunny and low in humidity.
One such location is Sequim, Washington, which has earned the nickname the “Lavender Capital of North America.” Located along the Dungeness River at the base of the Olympic Mountains, Sequim (pronounced “skwim”) has spent the last 20 years transforming arid farmland into a fragrant prairie of purple blooms.
So, what’s the secret to their lavender-infused luck?
It all starts with the unique climate of the northern Olympic Peninsula.
Despite the relentlessly rainy reputation of the Pacific Northwest (and especially the Olympic peninsula), Sequim stays quite sunny and arid throughout the year due to its position at the downwind base of the Olympic Mountains, a placement that results in a meteorological phenomenon known as a “rain shadow.”
As illustrated in the diagram, rain shadows form when humid prevailing winds roll in from the ocean and are intercepted by mountains. As the moist air rises along the mountain’s windward side, it begins to cool down, condense and precipitate. This process essentially dehumidifies the air by the time it makes it over the mountain peaks, casting a “shadow of dryness” down along the leeward side of the mountain.
The effect of this phenomenon is striking when you compare Sequim with a town situated on the other end of the mountains, such as Forks (yes, that Forks). While the city of Forks receives a whopping 119 inches of annual rainfall, Sequim only clocks in at around 10-15 inches a year — about the same amount of rainfall that sunny Los Angeles receives.
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