Time-lapse video: How many times do Seattleites get to see Mount Rainier each year?

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Mt. Rainier. Photo via Erin Kohlenberg

I was cruising down the Alaskan Way Viaduct last Friday evening, when I was struck by one of those special moments that you really only get living in Seattle.

The sun was setting with a bright orange glow in the sky, and Mt. Rainier in the distance turned a wonderful shade of pink.

Ah… Peace… Calm…

rainier-mountainI thought to myself: There’s no place on Earth as beautiful as this. I leaned over to GeekWire summer intern Robby Wellington, who like me hails from the rust belt of Ohio, and said: “It doesn’t get much better than this.”

Then, I offered this analysis: I bet we only get to see Mt. Rainier this clearly a dozen times each year.

It was an awesome moment. But, was I right? Is Mt. Rainier really only viewable three percent of the time?

Well, check this out. SunFunder co-founder Sameer Halai, a former Microsoft researcher who previously served as director of user experience at Limeade, put together a time-lapse video which captured the view from Seattle’s Kerry Park everyday at 3 p.m. Halai found that the mountain was “out” 83 times during 2012 — about every 4 to 5 days of the year. Of course, getting a slight glimpse is a bit different than the wonderful vista I saw buzzing down state route 99. Still, this at least attempted to answer a question of mine.

“Visibility of our surroundings is a key aspect of the experience of a place,” wrote Halai in a blog post. “I live in Seattle and one thing everyone here is obsessed with is Mt. Rainier. It’s common to hear the phrase ‘The mountain’s out.’ How many times in a year can you see Mt. Rainier from Seattle? Some people claim that it’s a ‘few days a year.’ This time-lapse shows that in 2012 you could see Mt. Rainier a total of minimum 83 times.”

Halai put together a simple perl script to grab images from Puget Sound Clean Air Agency, and then used iMovie to put them together. Here’s the video, and more below on why he wanted to put this together.

I am obsessed by Mt. Rainier. My wife and I go up there all the time and we think it’s one of the most beautiful place(s) in the world. I was looking for places in Seattle from where you can see Mt. Rainier … and found out about the Visibility Camera run by the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency. I shared it on social media and found that not many were as fascinated by it as I was. I concluded that it was, because even though they had all this data, it was inaccessible because it was hard to parse and make sense of.

I became curious about what would I find if I looked through all the pictures. On a Sunday morning, I wrote a quick script to download all the images in the 2012 archive, at a respectful 1 image every 15 seconds and started counting manually. I was shocked when my count went above 30. That’s when I decided to make the video in iMovie because the insight here is counter to what everyone, including me believed – 83 times is a lot more than I imagined.

  • Viet Nguyen

    That’s beautiful. I usually get heart palpitations when I’m driving on the Alaskan Way Viaduct due to the extreme fear of its imminent collapse. If those last few moments of life include a great view of Mt. Rainier, I guess that wouldn’t be so bad.

  • Thin-ice

    I know Portland is smaller, and Mt. Hood is shorter, but I always have the same thought when I drive east across one of the many downtown river bridges and Mt. Hood is right in my face: this has got to be the most beautiful city in America. (And I’m pretty sure we can see it on more than 82 days a year!)