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Three Curious Weather Phenomena of Oregon Coast: Manzanita, Cape Blanco, Headland 'Hats'

Published 05/02/22 at 9:05 PM PST
By Oregon Coast Beach Connection staff

Three Curious Weather Phenomena of Oregon Coast: Manzanita, Cape Blanco, Headland 'Hats'

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(Oregon Coast) – Weather on the coastline often seems like the region's way of unfriending you: getting all gray and blustery just before you head out for a day at the beach. (Photo above: Cape Blanco, courtesy Manuela Durson - see Manuela Durson Fine Arts for more)

While there's no way to beat that, aside from watching Oregon coast weather closely, there are some rather astounding elements to the region's meteorology that you've likely never heard of. Weather does some curious things out here. Here's three funky facts:

Headlands Wearing Hats

You might see it a lot along the entire Oregon coast, and then again it may be only periodically spotted. It depends.

Headlands along the coast have a habit of what some have nicknamed “wearing a hat,” which means there's clouds covering a headland. The more common sight is when there's cloud cover just low enough to wrap around places like Tillamook Head near Seaside or Humbug Mountain on the south coast.

The less common sight is where there's clouds covering only the headland and the ocean is clear. It's a bit bizarre, actually. Meteorologists don't have an official name for this, simply nicknaming it “cape clouds.”

It comes down to a few different weather parts coming to together at the same time, starting with cool air revving up the beach until it hits a headland. Then dewpoint conditions have to be in the right range, and this cool air becomes a cloud, according to Tyler Kranz with the National Weather Service (NWS) in Portland.

If the air is unstable, it won't flow over the headland but instead stall at the top in the form of clouds, becoming a cloud system all its own while the rest of the beaches and ocean around it are clear.

Hence this hat-adorned headland concept. There's a lot more to the science of it, however. See more Unique, Rare Oregon Coast Phenomena: When Headlands 'Wear a Hat' And Why.

Cape Blanco Affects Weather

Courtesy Bureau of Land Management

Cape Blanco may not be the highest of the headlands around, but this south Oregon coast landmark is the farthest west of all but one place in the U.S., and thus it would seem to have a mighty hand in the weather down there.

That's not quite true, but there is a meteorological line here that divides some kinds of weather just north and south of the outcropping. Weather forecasts out of the Medford office of the NWS often show something different for north of Blanco and south of it, especially in the offshore waters. Wind speeds, whether or not there's a small craft warning, and maybe it's a bit warmer or cooler on either side.

According to NWS meteorologists Dan Weygand and Brian Nieuwenhuis, this is pretty complex, but the biggest factor in these differences is a surprise: it's the height of the coastal mountains south of here that have the biggest influence. It's a coincidence that Blanco is at that dividing line. The peaks are higher as you get into Curry County, and these cut off the east winds to some degree.

With less east winds, one kind of pattern or another can get enhanced south of that coast range divide. Blanco is an element in the famed Chetco Effect, which can leave Gold Beach and Brookings in much higher temps than any other coastal town.

Yet the headland itself does play a part by somewhat sheltering Port Orford from high winds at times.

The full range of effects is rather mind-boggling: How Cape Blanco is a Dividing Line in South Oregon Coast Weather

Manzanita a Little Warmer

Perhaps the weirdest little factoid about Oregon coast weather is that Manzanita can be a bit sunnier more often than its neighbors Rockaway Beach and Cannon Beach.

Sunset Vacation Rentals owner Amy VanDyke has been claiming this for awhile:

“When I go north to do shopping in spring/summer/fall it's foggy in Seaside, Cannon and north beaches,” she said. “When I go south to head home: foggy. Until I get right past Oswald West then....... aaaaahhh…. sunshine and clear blue skies. Same happens south. Manzanita is tucked in enough that the fog doesn't reach us.”

We here at Oregon Coast Beach Connection had our doubts, but then we talked to Kranz at the NWS. It's something you can see for yourself sometimes at the Neahkahnie Overlooks: a diagonal line of clouds stretching from the mountain's tip to Nehalem Bay, but leaving Manzanita cloudless.

The absolute short of it: the coastline bends eastward here, and Neahkahnie blocks what are usually north winds, but it also changes the winds. There's this whole eye-opening action of clouds hitting the north face of the mountain, Cape Falcon and the higher terrain just north of here, then warming and drying up as the winds come down the south side. This literally warms up the air coming into Manzanita, and both dynamics keep the marine layers at bay. Thus, Manzanita is known as a kind of “Banana Belt” for the north coast. See Manzanita Is Indeed 'Banana Belt' of N. Oregon Coast - Science Behind It.

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