Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Culture: Webbing Between Toes

BELLEVUE, WASHINGTON - I often say that the Pacific Northwest is the nicest place in the world--on the 50 days of year that the Olympic and Cascade mountain ranges are visible. The problem is the other 300 days or so, when it's raining or thinking about raining. I may not be quantitatively accurate, but if you've ever lived in the Pacific Northwest, you understand the sentiment. When I was in the Seattle area in late 2005 and early 2006, I lived through 40 straight days of precipitation. Anywhere else, it would have been considered Biblical. Here, it was just a little longer streak than normal--and mild in many ways, since at least it wasn't snowing.

For native Pacific Northwesterners, plain gray and rainy weather in the winter doesn't get much attention unless it's a record streak or big storm; it's to be expected. When it doesn't go away in the spring or even in the summer, then it becomes tiresome. Most television meteorologists here joke that summer doesn't start until July 12th. The audience doesn't laugh; it plans a trip to Hawaii as soon as school is out.

In this context, 2010 has been even worse than normal. Down south in Portland, Oregon, it has been the wettest June in history, and not by a trivial margin. On June 16th, the total precipitation in Portland had reached 4.24 inches since the beginning of the month. The previous wettest June in Portland took place in 1984, when 4.06 inches fell the entire month. One meteorologist described it as "truly amazing." Most people I talked to in Portland last Sunday called it truly depressing. In fact, everyone I interacted with spoke about lack of motivation to do anything--and the record-setting month wasn't over yet. It rained during my visit.

Meanwhile, Seattle finally ended another streak. Today, after 272 days of cooler temperatures, the mercury finally reached 75 degrees Fahrenheit here (that's 24 C). That's a long time to wait for a hot day, even in Seattle. The previous record had been 254 days, set in 1999 and 2000. Suddenly, people here were in a very good mood. No statistics are available, but the very Seattle phenomenon of calling in sick on the first sunny day was taking place in full force.

I guess summer came before July 12th after all--but not before the Pacific Northwest gave its residents another spring of growing webbing between their toes. (The Ducks aren't the mascot of the University of Oregon for nothing.) After all, as the common joke goes, in the Pacific Northwest, we don't tan, we rust.

No comments: