Kicking in a little later than normal, it looks like the dark and rainy season of Seattle–which is most of the year, actually–is finally beginning. After an alternating week of rain and sun, forecasters think there will be significant precipitation–with not much sun–for at least the next seven days.
Seattle remains the only one of the many places that I have lived in over the decades where “sunbreaks” regularly are part of a forecast (look at Sunday on the display above). The forecasters simply may be doing their best to bolster local spirits. The TV weather dogs probably could have stretched out that rain prediction for about eight months, and not be wrong any more than usual.
Seattle weather, especially the rain, has been fodder for late-night comedians. Many news outlets around the country had great fun a few years ago when Jean-Sun Hannah Ahn, the newly crowned Miss Seattle, got caught tweeting “can’t stand cold rainy Seattle.” The weather here is even the stuff of legend, almost a tourist attraction like the Gum Wall under Pike Place Market and the Space Needle. Indeed, a friend visiting recently from that desert known as Los Angeles actually stood in the rain on a downtown sidewalk for a moment, saying he wanted a true Seattle experience.
Since becoming New To Seattle four years ago, I have observed closely the attitude of the locals toward the weather. What I have come to realize is that–Miss Seattle notwithstanding–they generally have little problem with a rainy day in Seattle, although they are defensive about it to newcomers and visitors. They eschew raincoats and umbrellas, and get their cars washed in the rain. But the dark and short days–well, that’s another matter.
At 37 inches, Seattle gets roughly the same amount of rain as many East Coast cities like New York City and Philadelphia. What’s different is the pattern. In the Philly area, where I grew up, it would be one day of fairly heavy rain followed by two, three or even four dry and generally sunny days. The usual pattern in Seattle is days of a constant mist–“spitting,” we called it back East. But that mist comes from thick clouds that blot out the sun for days or weeks at a time. (Seattle leads the nation’s big cities in number of cloudy days annually.)
That and the northern latitude–Seattle is farther north than Minneapolis, Boston and every city in Maine–makes for relatively brief daytime periods starting about now and running for several months. In December, the sun will set in Seattle as early as 4:18 p.m., with as little as 8½ hours of daytime. Most working folks will get up in darkness and arrive home in darkness.
During winters here, I hear far more grousing about the inky days than any other weather condition such as high wind or that rarest of Seattle conditions, ice and snow (thank you for your moderation, Puget Sound). For a big city, Seattle has a relatively high suicide rate. From conversations I’ve had, a lot of people around here attribute part of that to the dark winter environment, although evidence on that point is scant. Sunny, scammy Spokane on the other side of the state, for instance, has an even higher suicide rate.
Meanwhile, Seattle stores sell large amounts of Vitamin D to replace that not absorbed from the missing sun. Airlines are offering more than 50 routings each day from Seattle-Tacoma International Airport to sun-drenched Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport.
As for me, I’m just hoping for those predicted sunbreaks on Sunday.