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It Never Rains

9 March 2010 Seattle 4,080 views No CommentPrint This Post Print This Post Email This Post Email This Post

Over the course of these past few weeks, a good amount of rain has fallen onto my former hometown of Las Vegas and the Southern California towns where I lived my teen years. Friends still living in these places light up my Facebook message box whenever a drop falls on Hollywood or the Strip: “You wouldn’t believe it. It looks just like Seattle down here today.”

They’re right: I don’t believe it. They’re talking about water falling from the sky in great cascades; they’re talking about fat drops smacking against windshields and Mission Style rooftops. I rarely get to see anything like that up here in the Northwest. It never rains in Seattle.

I’m not saying that it isn’t overcast. Seattle is covered in clouds even now. Perhaps later today, a light drizzle or a fine mist will fall from the sky, just enough water to wet the sidewalks and to put a bite into the pre-spring cold. It surely won’t add up to the 67 inches of rainfall experienced annually by Mobile, AL., or the 62 inches that fall on Miami every year. In fact, according to a 2007 study by liability firm WeatherBill, Inc., Seattle receives just about 37 inches of rain a year, which places my adopted city underneath Buffalo, Cincinnati and most of the American South. The city that many figure to be America’s wettest ranks 41st out of 42 cities measured.

It’s that silver sheet that hangs over Seattle some 200 days out of the year that has earned the city a reputation as some sort of walk-through aquarium. Most days it looks like it could rain, but it rarely does. The sky hangs low, and cool ocean air rolls off the surrounding mountains and settles on the hilly streets; to paraphrase Ray Bradbury, it is one tall drink of green water air. We drink it down almost daily during the winter and spring months, and remember how vibrant the city looks in summer and autumn, when the sun transforms Seattle into a panorama of vibrantly-colored picture postcards. And I can say in all honesty that when the rain comes down — when it really rains — we’re surprised by it.

Shortly after I moved to Seattle in 2002, I learned the truth about the city’s rainfall from a couple of friends who had lived in the Northwest long enough to see the Seattle’s population explode. They said that they played up the rain when they described the city to out-of-towners, “to keep the Californians and rubes from moving here.” (“But we don’t mean you, Geoff,” said one of them uncertainly.) And I discovered that the reality of Seattle’s weather fed into several other national suppositions about the city, many of which were true. Seattle residents really do read a lot of books, wear a lot of backpacks, go to a ton of movies, and sluice down coffee by the trough. These are all natural side effects of cloudy days: Even if you know it’s not going to rain, a small, nagging part of you wants to stick to indoor activities, and to drink hot cups of coffee for comfort. And as for the backpack: Well, you never know when that sky might go all Miami on you.

Obviously, it’s not an ideal state of affairs. It would be nice to see the sun more than a third of the year, and to reduce the number of hoodies in our wardrobe by half. But if that cloud cover were any less the silver veil, those sunny days of summer wouldn’t seem quite so majestic, so satisfying. We wouldn’t feel that we’d earned them.

So we go from silver day to silver day, with our backpacks full of library books and rented movies, grateful for the promise of perfect days in the not-too-distant future — and grateful also that we don’t have to put on water wings every time we walk from the office to the coffeehouse, and that the coffeehouse hasn’t been completely overrun by rubes like me.

By the by, regarding the storm-tossed patio pictured above: I took that photo one evening back in August 2001 … in Las Vegas, NV., which WeatherBill’s report recognized as the driest city in the United States. It’s true: Most of the year, my former hometown is hot, dusty and arid. But when it rains — wow. I can’t begin to tell you how much I miss the torrential rains of Las Vegas.

Geoff Carter

PHOTO BY GC

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