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Wringing The "Soaked Seattle" Meme Dry

January 04, 2005

In Seattle, it rains all the time. Move here, and thanks to the constant grey and drizzly weather, you will become morose, withdrawn, overweight, undersexed and suicidal.

At least that's what we'd like you to believe - so as to stem the flow of new arrivals in Puget Sound and keep this increasingly imperfect piece of paradise to ourselves. The MSM often echoes the "Soaked Seattle" meme quite reliably.

But the facts are somewhat different.

Seattle has less annual rainfall than many U.S. cities, as this chart shows (scroll down to the third section). Many places in the southern and Mid-Atlantic regions get more rain, plus some in the Northeast. Even Tulsa is wetter than Seattle.

The chart also shows that Seattle has more days with rain than any other U.S. city but one. Once again going against the exclusionary interests of fellow Puget Sounders, I must point out: So What! While some rainy Seattle days stay that way, many do not. Smart locals capitalize on "sunbreaks," hitting parks and beaches for brisk strolls, while newbies from Philadelphia and L.A. cower at the window wondering if they dare head outside.

Moreover, Seattle winters, while somewhat moist, are rarely cold, and have a healthy share of 40-degree-plus days, some drenched with sun and clear skies. Right now, it's frigid (20s and 30s) with completely clear and sunny skies, and gorgeous snow-capped mountains visible 70 miles away. Today's Seattle Times features a story about the cold snap, and the likelihood of snow, which is about as frequent here as antlers on a crested grebe.

I suppose if Seattle does have one heinous weather-related flaw, it's the way some locals react to snow on those rare occasions when it falls around the city and suburbs. Always a huge event, prompting breathless reportage, and the closing of schools and workplaces. This is because there are a lot of hills, making driving somewhat treacherous. And snow, like noisy people from "Back East," disturbs the drowsy equilibrium of this distant backwater, where grey is a civic and societal behavioral model, as well as the color of the sky.

Seattle snow hysteria always cracks me up. I grew up in Chicago, and still fondly recall building real igloos with my little pals in the alley between Cornell Ave. and Hyde Park Blvd. during the famous blizzard of '67. Another cherished memory was Chicago's crippling snowstorm in '79, when all public transit was stymied, and I turned my taxicab into a jitney of sorts, making the 151 Sheridan Road to downtown bus run over and over with five or six passengers at a time. (I even had a makeshift "151/Sheridan" sign in my side window). Boy, was I raking it in!

The plus side of Seattle's frequent drizzle:

a) plants and flowers of all kinds grow, and grow, and grow;

b) one learns not to depend on external factors for fulfillment or happiness - in turn engendering a healthy imperviousness to the ephemera of life, man's condition, and modernity itself;

c) the moisture is good for your skin;

d) rain fosters reading, and eating in;

e) rain boosts coffeehouse culture, and Wi-Fi therein;

f) you get to smirk at gringo touristas who strut around Seattle wearing $800 Burberry raincoats and carrying umbrellas, unaware that the native attire is fleece outerwear and - when the drizzle stiffens - The Seattle Weakly carried over one's head.

However, if you are considering moving here from drier climes I must warn you to pay no attention to the man behind the curtain. Despite being Jewish, I am a hopeless optimist. None of these ameliorative circumstances I have just described are likely to cheer you. In all likelihood, you will be utterly miserable.

Don't chance it.

Posted by Matt Rosenberg at January 4, 2005 10:05 AM


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Comments:

Isn't most of the Northwest coast, from like Juneau, down to Northern California, considered "Temprate" rainforest?

Posted by: cas at January 5, 2005 08:25 PM

That's not the exact term, and rainforest is a pretty specific designation.....i.e. like the Olympic Rainforest on Washington's Olympic Peninsula. There've gotta be a whole heck of a lotta trees, a substantial annual rainfall, and doubtless certain other things as well.

But yes, there are a lot of drizzly, grey areas strung up and down the Western reaches of the Northwest, including Juneau(as I understand things), plus Seattle, Portland, and a lot of the Oregon Coast. Two very sunny microclimates in the midst of all this are Brookings, Oregon (SW Oregon Coast)and Sequim, WA (on the Olympic Peninsula).

Posted by: Matt Rosenberg at January 5, 2005 08:55 PM

Having lived here 40-plus years, the only practical place to have an umbrella is in the golf bag. The rain isn't the problem, it's all the cloudy days. I felt half-blinded driving around town today.

Posted by: Charles Bird at January 5, 2005 10:14 PM

It WAS incredibly sunny today, although I wonder if it would be easier to take if we got more of it? I guess you think so. Anyway, I was squinting so much walking into Target (kinda dangerous given how folks drive in the lot) that I promptly invested in a pair of sunglasses better than the usual crummy ones I buy, which always seem to break in a few weeks.

I wonder how long this Sun Spell in Seattle will last......

Posted by: Matt R. at January 5, 2005 10:55 PM

We have people at work from all over the world. If they express any displeasure when I say something postive about rain. I respond "We were born here. Didn't you move here for the rain?"

Posted by: Ron at January 6, 2005 06:58 PM

I was born in Seattle, raised in Tacoma; so I can say this: it is too damn wet and (always) overcast, in the winter and much of the so-called spring. As a bachelor, I can also say, with some authority, if the people here are not "undersexed" due to the crappy weather, something else must be at work. The women in Seattle are among the most unfriendly and defensive in the world.
I spent two years going to college in Los Angeles and another four years stationed at a Navy air base in the Southern Califoria desert. That was back in the late 1960s and early 1970s. So things might have changed. But for my money, the women are nicer in California and the people are generally more willing to talk. It is the weather and Seattle loses - big time.

Posted by: Terry Parkhurst at January 9, 2005 10:48 PM

I was born in Seattle, raised in Tacoma; so I can say this: it is too damn wet and (always) overcast, in the winter and much of the so-called spring. As a bachelor, I can also say, with some authority, if the people here are not "undersexed" due to the crappy weather, something else must be at work. The women in Seattle are among the most unfriendly and defensive in the world.
I spent two years going to college in Los Angeles and another four years stationed at a Navy air base in the Southern Califoria desert. That was back in the late 1960s and early 1970s. So things might have changed. But for my money, the women are nicer in California and the people are generally more willing to talk. It is the weather and Seattle loses - big time.

Posted by: Terry Parkhurst at January 9, 2005 10:50 PM

Terry, your check is in the mail.

Posted by: Matt R. at January 11, 2005 04:58 PM

I spent a decade living in Seattle and agree with many of Matt Rosenberg's comments. We now live in Northern Arizona now which has its own share of stereotypes -- must be all desert and hot, the thinking goes. But we live in the world's largest Ponderosa pine forest, minutes away from either red rock country of Sedona or the alpine forests of Mt. Humphrreys.

As to Seattle, we do miss the Sound, the ferries, the rhodies always in bloom, relatives and much more. But the rain was not the issue for people who find Seattle not to their liking. The issue was the number of cloudy, grey days. I used an umbrella in Seattle less than I did in California, In California, it poured in the rainy season. In Seattle you are alwys getting sprtized, rarely dumped on. The umbrellas may have been unneeded, relatively speaking, but so was the sun AWOL in proportion. Seattle weather and gray days led to the standing joke of "What do you call a sunny day following two days of sun in Seattle?" Answer: "Monday" -- the weekends seemed to be bad weather as a rule. Even summers can get a bad rap. Sometimes summer seemed like the one week of blue skies following the 4th of July -- but other times the sun went on and on over the summer months.

Another thing. When it rains in Seattle you cannot get anywhere fast. Traffic slows to a crawl. And on sunny days if you want to head to say Snoqualmie Pass to do some hiking, you can find trails as busy as city streets and parking just as bad.

If you are trying to decide on Seattle, I'd carefully consider the following two cons: traffic and grey days. If those bother you, Seattle may not be the place for you.

On the pro side, picture a place where there are beautiful flowers in bloom year round, you rarely have to water things -- life just thrives everywhere, where ferries glide across the Sound like floating castles, where -- when the sun is out -- the sky is about the most beautiful blue you can imagine (nearly violet at zenith at certain times of day), and where if you take a little extra time you can be in the sun on the east of the Cascades if you want (Lake Chelan, Lake Wenatchee, and other places as sunny as you can imagine).

Cheers,
David

Posted by: David Minger at February 13, 2005 08:48 AM

Oops -- told that good old Seattle joke wrong. It goes like this. Q. What do you call a sunny day after two days of _rain_? A. Monday.

Posted by: David Minger at February 13, 2005 09:02 AM

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