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New: Living in Washington State: Rain

Posted on May 13, 2016

Back in high school, I had a peculiar winter routine: each morning, I woke up at 6 am (also known in layman’s terms as Utter Darkness O’clock), tried to remember where I mislaid my socks, ate a piece of blackened toast in the kitchen, and then spent about half an hour trying to break into my own car. The problem, you see, with my car (which, it’s worth mentioning, was a ‘99 Geo Metro whose engine seemed inclined to explode once every six months) was that its doors’ wizened and decrepit locks froze overnight during the winter. As such, I spent each morning from the end of November to the end of February jamming my keys with Neolithic stupidity into the lock on the driver’s side door. Usually, I had to resort to prying open a rear passenger door (often with an unused coat hanger) and then, through a backbreaking series of acrobatics and advanced yoga poses, crawl into the front seat. Thankfully, I lived in the woods, and so was spared the embarrassment of performing this ritual in front of neighbors.

I mention this elaborate routine because it was always accompanied by a lavishly icy rain. Indeed, it was the prevalence of this icy rain that caused my car’s locks to freeze, and so my reflexive car-jacking usually involved a great deal of grumbling about the weather. Why, I thought to myself, did my parents decide to move to such a rainy state? Why couldn’t we live in a tropical paradise? Or the Gobi Desert? Anywhere would be better, I assumed, than the perennially mushy Pacific Northwest.

Of course, these days, people seem fond of pointing out that, contrary to popular belief, it doesn’t actually rain much in Seattle. While this fact is technically true (the city only experiences about 38 annual inches of rainfall, on average), I’d like to tentatively suggest that anyone who considers Seattle’s rainfall overrated is a nincompoop.

When Washingtonians (or Seattleites, or whatever it is we call ourselves) refer to Western Washington’s famously rainy weather, we’re not quibbling over inches. Rather, we’re alluding to the vast number of days on which it rains. For instance, it’s estimated that Seattle has about 150 days, more or less, of rain each year. To put this number in perspective, Seattle spends nearly half of each year under a gray and rainy sky. Granted, this “precipitation” is often more of a dripping drizzle than anything else (my family calls it a “heavy mist” in a misguided attempt to appear sophisticated beyond our means), but I’ll count it, especially if doing so will restore Seattle to its rightful place atop the throne of sogginess.

I acknowledge that obsessing over Seattle’s share of rainfall is a trifle deranged. However, you have to understand that my perspective has changed since the days of my high school car woes; while I used to resent the Puget Sound’s constant drizzle, I now regard it as something to be cherished. We live in an era in which climates are warming, ice caps are melting, and deserts are inching their sandy dunes over larger and larger territories. In particular, the American West is drying at an alarming rate and, according to researchers at NASA and Columbia and Cornell Universities, the Southwest and Great Plains regions will likely experience a decades long “megadrought” by the end of the century. In short, rain seems to be in short supply nowadays, and so it would seem that, for now, Western Washington appears to be particularly fortunate when it comes to precipitation.

In that case, as tiresome as our prolonged rainy season can be, I have a hard time viewing it in anything less than a positive light. After all, there are plenty of things to like about the rain, such as the crisp scent of fresh spring drops falling over dry concrete, or (even better) the muted chatter of rainclouds dumping water over a misty forest in autumn. The vast majority of Americans might romanticize sunny locales like Orange County or the Florida Keys but, for me, there’s nothing better than a drizzly morning on the Puget Sound.

As a parting gesture, I’ll leave you with the following memory: once, when I was six or seven, I woke up in the middle of the night to the sound of rain pattering over the roof. I lay there beneath the covers for a long time, listening to the gentle burbling of falling water, keeping my body completely still. There was an owl hooting away somewhere in the woods, and a chorus of frogs was chirping down by the creek, and I felt as if I were huddled in the hull of some immense ship rocking on a peaceful anchor beneath the moon.

Though I can’t quite explain it, that memory’s stuck with me well into my adult years, and to this day I don’t know if the emotion it inspires is poignant melancholy or utter joy.

Author’s Note: This piece is the fourth part of an essay series called Living in Washington State. Be on the lookout next month for the final entry: The Sea.




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