I have the fortune that I can remember the very day when my insatiable curiosity was born. It began during my 6th grade, with my teacher Mr. White. He developed a very novel course curriculum that involved the use of study cards. On each of theses cards, there would be multiple subsections, including but not limited to Art, Poetry, Math, Science, and History. With each section, he would sit there for a minute, ponder about various project ideas, and chose a due date that he felt was appropriate to make a quality project. Ideas that I specifically remember included making an Incan Mask, writing a Shakespearean sonnet, and mathematical puzzles. But the one that I remember so vividly…was Rain Shadows!
Me: “Rain Shadows?!? What are Rain Shadows?”
Mr. White: “That’s what I want you to learn, and then you can share what you’ve learned with the class.”
Now this was 1998, the year Google came out, so the efficiency of finding what you needed on the internet was rather limited. I was (and still am) a savvy computer geek, so I was very frustrated that I couldn’t find a single bit of information about rain shadows. At one point it crossed my mind that, “well…if I can’t find anything about it on the internet, I must have misheard him….that, or he messed up and told me something that doesn’t exist.” Frustrated, I went to my parents for a quick answer, but they had never heard of the term. So I had to resort the one place the average millennial has only heard about in stories of old…the public library.
Having only used the public library for their restrooms prior to this instance, I was quite lost, literally and metaphorically. I didn’t even know how to find things. But as the precocious 6th grader that I was, or as least that’s how I like to imagine I was, I asked librarian to help me find textbooks on “whether phenomena.” After a surprisingly short perusing of the first textbook, I found my answer!
A “Rain Shadow” specifically refers to areas of dry, arid land that lay adjacent to the lee side (or away from wind) mountain ranges. As warm moisturized air approaches a mountain range, in order to blow over, they are forced to higher altitudes, causing the air to cool. The cooled air cannot hold onto moisture as well, so it condense into clouds, resulting in significant rain. The remaining air, now mostly void of it’s original moisture content, is able to pass over the mountain. As a result, the land that lies behind the mountain is dry and arid.
This concept isn’t just theoretical meteorology; most of us have noticed this first hand. For us California’s, the Sierra Nevada’s paint a beautiful example of this phenomena. Notice the west side of the mountains, even from zoomed-out satellite view below, is beautiful lush green. As for the opposing mountainside, there is a sharp contrast to the rocky-appearing, dry desert of Nevada.
Other examples world wide include with the Himalayan Mountains, separating the dense rain forests of northern india with the cold dry Tibetan Plateau. Or the Andes Mountains of south american, with the Atacama desert as it’s rain shadow. (Interesting tid bit: notice the Atacama desert is on the west side of the mountains, compared to the north american deserts that all lie east of the mountain ranges. This is due to different global wind patterns. The direction depends on geophysical latitude, and for that part of the Andes, the winds blow westward!).
As you can see, I’m still fascinated by the subject. So Mr. White, I praise your for starting the fire of curiosity that continues to burn bright in my mind and soul. But more importantly, I CURSE you! Like the myth of King Midas and his lust for gold, I thought the pursuit of knowledge would be a source of everlasting pleasure. But in fact, I’m plagued by the incessant voyage to answer the question “I wonder why that is?” And with every question answered, two more questions replace it, creating an exponential decay of tangential thoughts.
But let’s be honest, I wouldn’t trade if for the world.