Trips: Riding the Chetco Winds – Avoiding Heat Waves on the Oregon Coast

It's high summer, and since I follow the nice weather I am restricted to places where the temperature is reasonable until after Labor Day.  Right now that is pretty much limited to the Pacific Coast Highway and the high, high mountains.

This is the chair of the campsite selection committee, who seems to be sitting in MY chair. Judging by the dirty footprints, she's making herself right at home.

This is the chair of the campsite selection committee, who seems to be sitting in MY chair. Judging by the dirty footprints, she's making herself right at home.

The campsite selection committee in the back of the bus decreed that we will while away the dog days of summer on the ocean, so we are presently boondocking up and down the southern Oregon coast, where we have spent many pleasant weeks in years past. It's a stunning setting where you can park in any spot not otherwise signed no parking for 12 hours, and there are a LOT of beautiful spots to park.

The Pacific Coast Highway is delightfully cool in midsummer because prevailing winds are almost always off the water, whose temperature is somewhere in the mid-50s.  Daytime highs are usually in the mid-60s to 70, which is definitely the way I want to spend my summers after a lifetime on the Gulf coastal plain.  However, every once in a while the winds change, and they have heatwaves out here. The nice thing, though, is you can move a few miles and avoid them, something I couldn't do back home.

Sisters Rock State Park, a little north of Gold Beach, OR.

Sisters Rock State Park, a little north of Gold Beach, OR.

It's called the Chetco effect, or Brookings effect – when the wind shifts around to the north or east, hot air from the interior spills down the coastal valleys and pushes the sea air back along the coastline. And the hot air gets even hotter as it descends because of an effect called adiabatic heating – air warms 5.38 degrees for every 1,000 feet it descends, and some of the mountains are 3,000 feet high. In the winter that's a good thing, and is why this stretch of coast is called the “banana belt,” a welcome change from the usually dismal 40-degrees-and-raining Pacific Northwest winters. It can be 70 and sunny for Christmas in Brookings, depending on wind direction.  In the summer, well, I know all the words to that song, and am tired of singing it. I want my cool weather back.

Every mile  or two there's a beautiful pulloff you can set up for the day or night in.

Every mile or two there's a beautiful pulloff you can set up for the day or night in.

What I do is look at the map and the weather forecasts, and plot my escape. The hot interior air comes down the valleys in the coastal range, so all I have to do to stay cool is pick a stretch of coast where the coastal mountains are high and unbroken. I also have to check the weather forecast, because it's tricky – depending on wind direction, the Brookings effect can show up in funny places.  Sometimes the hot air will slide north or south of the valley mouth, so there are unpredictable weather effects all up and down the coast.

sisters

The only restriction is that you can't overnight inside state parks. This spot was right outside one, so this is where we watched the sunset and turned in for the night.

Today it's broiling in Gold Beach, at the mouth of the Rogue River valley – the forecast high is 86. But up the coast 25 miles in Port Orford? 70. Since I have to move every 12 hours anyway, when I packed up from our overnight stay and headed out for a new spot this morning I just drove a little longer in a northerly direction, and here in mid-afternoon I can smell the cool salt air at 68 degrees. Lovely. This beats the heck out of Florida, where when it was hot, it was hot all over. Being mobile is a great advantage when it comes to weather, because you can avoid what you want to by keeping on moving down the road until you find something you like. Here in Oregon, that's a 15-minute drive.

There are

2 comments

  1. Gail Kapusnick

    I was in Idaho on Friday and said Enough!! I drove 610 miles west in one day, thinking that if I was going to be trapped inside a tiny, air conditioned box, it might as well be rolling. What a relief, I’m actually kinda chilly at night. I love it! 🙂