Last night, I watched the 10 p.m. news on KONG-TV, the sharing sister station of the more established KING-TV (King Kong, get it?). The lead story (produced by KING-TV) was upcoming rain in Seattle. Not a big storm or a lot of rain: a quarter-inch or less. No prediction of damaging lightning or high winds. And not even right away, but maybe a day or two off.
This is what passes hereabouts for big news. When it comes to unremarkable weather events, Seattle might be the most schizophrenic city in the country. This is certainly so of the many places I lived before becoming New To Seattle last year.
Weather that would be a yawn in other places–a light sprinkle, thunder–gets massive attention in Seattle. During the summer The Seattle Times actually devoted the top half of one front page to a giant photo of lightning above West Seattle. That was accompanied by a story that described no impact or damage, except, in my view, to the psyche of residents.
Seattle now appears to be at the end of its three-month dry season, with persistent but not drenching rain about to return and the sun to largely disappear for about nine months. Thanks to all kinds of climatological and topographical quirks, this has been going on for millenniums. That’s long before the first gringos showed up in 1851 to chase off the Indians and grab the land for themselves. And long before the first TV journalist clad in a yellow slicker stood in front of a camera and bewailed what almost surely was modest precipitation.
I suppose the media coverage reflects local concerns. Early on in my stay here, I expressed amazement about the defensiveness of Seattleites toward their weather, which, having lived in fetid Houston and often-freezing New York City I didn’t consider all that bad. Seattle’s Convention and Visitors Bureau long has done its damndest to downplay the wet stuff. But I guess everything is relative.
Maria Semple’s new set-in-Seattle novel, Where’d You Go, Bernadette, captures this mindset perfectly. In the words of the protagonist, a newcomer to the city, “Every time it rains, and you have to interact with someone, here’s what they’ll say: ‘Can you believe the weather?’ And you want to say, ‘Actually, I can believe the weather. What I can’t believe us that I’m actually having a conversation about the weather.’ ”
Watching the TV reporter last night, Jim Forman, I kept thinking of “Groundhog Day,” the 1993 movie about a TV reporter (played by Bill Murray) sick of covering the exact same event year after year. Forman, though, made a game effort to turn an unremarkable annual weather event into a story–any kind of story. He even opened the hood of a car to advise viewers to check their batteries, a suggestion that struck me as more appropriate in immediate advance of the first freeze, which was not in the prediction. Forman warned that the long streak without rain–80 days, longer than usual–meant there was a roadway building-up of oil and grime that the first rain will release, making streets slippery.
Aha! Maybe that’s why Seattle drivers are rated as among the nation’s worst, a point not mentioned in the TV report. I had no idea.