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Something Weird Went Down in the Woods of Washington

An unexplained incident happened in the forests of Olympic National Park on the shores of Washington state, and park service officials and scientists have been left baffled by a lack of definitive explanations. In the early morning hours of January 27th, an extremely powerful force of some kind knocked down over one hundred trees along the north shore of Lake Quinault on Washington’s Olympic Peninsula. While high winds or some other meteorological phenomenon were immediately assumed to be the cause, weather data show that nothing out of the meteorological ordinary occurred. So then what exactly happened in the woods of Washington that night?

Photo: Olympic National Park

The unexplained tree fall was first reported by Bill Bacchus, chief scientist of Olympic National Park, who wrote to meteorologist and weather blogger Cliff Mass for his expertise on the mystery. In his message to Mass, Bacchus described a surreal scene of massive old-growth trees splayed out in a semi-circular pattern, broken off at their bases:

Most of the trees appeared to be wind thrown, but as you can see from the photos, many were also broken near the base. The amount of trees down was inconsistent, in some areas, nearly every tree is down, but the majority of the area seemed to have lost about 40-60% of standing trees. Near the drainage outlet, the trees seemed to have fallen southeast, while the western edge trees were oriented more north south. In the eastern edge, the trees were closer to east/west.

Mass immediately began combing through all available meteorological data for the night of the incident, looking for any wind patterns or microbursts which might explain the tree fall. Immediately, he noticed that whatever caused the trees to fall, it was also powerful enough to trigger a localized seismic event picked up only by the sensors nearest to the epicenter of the tree fall.

Photo: Olympic National Park

Photo: Olympic National Park

Still, weather data from that night show nothing anomalous: no extreme changes in temperature or dew point, low wind speeds, and pressure following a weak downward trend. There was a front of warm air flowing in from the south at the time, but such fronts are not usually known to cause dangerous microbursts. On his blog, Mass writes that such little clues leave this incident a total mystery:

The trees fell to the south or southeast, implying a very strong northerly wind. None of the surface locations shows strong wind and most of them are easterly or southeasterly. Wrong direction. There is no strong convection or thunderstorms, so no microbursts. Frustrating… perhaps the Sasquatch or alien visitation explanations should be taken seriously!

Hmm… a rough and tumble Sasquatch mating ritual does sound intriguing, but unlikely. Everyone knows Squatches venture south for winter. Could some unknown meteorological phenomenon be the cause, or is something stranger afoot in the Pacific Northwest?