An Independent School • Grades 5-12

by Esper M. ’23

The Lakeside Summer Research Institute (LSRI) is a four-week summer research experience in which students engage in mentored research projects.

During my time at LSRI, I focused on Seattle microclimates, particularly looking at the variability in air temperature during the heatwave that occurred June 26-28. Seattle microclimates are small weather pockets around greater Seattle, typically caused by geographical features such as mountains or ocean, but which can also be caused by man-made variables like roads or dense housing. The result is variability in weather, despite locations sitting in close proximity to each other. During the heatwave this was particularly apparent, with locations in the greater Seattle area having up to a 20 degree Fahrenheit difference in air temperature. 

After examining data from numerous locations around Seattle, I narrowed my research to two locations, one in the Ballard neighborhood, collected from a personal weather station at Dr. Town’s house, and the other being NWS data from SeaTac, where Seattle’s highest-ever record temperature of 108 was recorded during the recent heat wave. As expected, there was indeed variability in the data from these two locations, though the temperatures did generally exhibit a high degree of correlation. Notably, there were times when the microclimate phenomena was in play, for example, SeaTac dropping 32 degrees in three hours when Ballard dropped only 10. 

Knowing that the microclimate phenomena does indeed apply to Seattle, and collecting more neighborhood-specific data, one could form further hypotheses about which geographic features might be responsible for the differences and test for those hypotheses. 

Seattle has historically experienced mild weather throughout all seasons. This is due to its latitude, its proximity to the Pacific Ocean, and the fact that it is sheltered by two mountain ranges. As a result, Seattle has developed infrastructure over time designed to accommodate life in a mild climate. 

This mild-weather infrastructure has left Seattle residents unprepared when facing the periods of extreme weather that do occur from time to time--isolated occasions that have grown more frequent and more extreme over the past few decades. For example, during our recent heatwave of 100+ degree record-breaking temperatures, a large proportion of Seattlites lived with the uncomfortable, at times unhealthy, reality that very few homes are equipped with air conditioning. At the other end of the weather spectrum, many roads and cars prove unsuitable for driving in snow that is becoming more frequent.

When Seattle experiences extreme weather, school officials, employers, and local government officials are put in the position of needing to make decisions about what to require of citizens and how to meet citizen needs. Are students or employees required to commute to school or work? Is it safe for people to be outside for extended periods of time? Currently, however, these decisions are based on inadequate information. They tend to be based on centralized weather data and do not adequately factor in microclimate considerations. 

Having clear knowledge of the discrepancies between various Seattle microclimates will better equip local leaders for better decision-making, just as better understanding trends toward more extreme weather and knowing the effects that extreme weather can have on buildings, roads, and individuals, is imperative to the long-term safety of Seattle.