If there’s a U.S. city more defensive about its weather for no good reason than Seattle, I’ve yet to visit it.
What other conclusion can I draw? I’ve had essentially the same conversation with almost every person I’ve chatted up—checkout clerks, neighbors, total strangers–since moving to Seattle in June. It goes something like this:
Me: “I’m New To Seattle. Just moved here.”
Other Person: “Oh, from where?”
Me: “Los Angeles area.”
Other Person: “Oh, you came at a good time. But don’t expect the nice weather you’re about to get for more than a few months. We get a lot of rain here, and not much sun.”
A variation on this theme: “Enjoy it while it lasts, because it won’t last too long.”
A few people have even felt the urge to apologize to me for the climate change that awaits me, like they worked for God or the Seattle Chamber of Commerce. One worried employee at a Fred Meyer store actually asked if I had brought along rain gear, as though nowhere else in the country experiences precipitation.
It’s as if I’ve moved to a city full of lawyers determined to make sure I couldn’t sue on the basis of false representations about the climate.
Seattle’s long, dreary, misty falls-winters-and-springs are well known around the country–the stuff of legend, almost, and part of the city’s considerable mystique. I also think that’s one of the reasons a large chunk of the tourists come between July 4 and Labor Day, so they have a sure chance of eyeballing Mount Rainier, which I never saw during any of my house-hunting trips in the winter and early spring.
But on a scale of 1 (lousy) to 10 (great), I would rank year-round Seattle weather no worse than a 5 or 6 and maybe even a 7. There’s little of the sustained frigid temperatures and snow found in Boston or New York. No need to plug in your car to keep it from freezing like you do in Minneapolis. None of the gut-sucking heat and humidity found in Houston, Dallas or much of the Southeast. Few worries about hurricanes and tornadoes. Above-average air quality.
As for the lack of sun, so what? I lived for a dozen years in sunny Albuquerque–310 days a year of cloudless weather–during which time my Congressman died of skin cancer.
I find this Seattle chagrin over the not-so-bad weather striking, and reflective of a collective mindset I still don’t understand but hope to. It’s quite a contrast with, say Houston, where I lived for a total of seven years. I can assure you that America’s brash oil capital is utterly unapologetic about a mosquito-laden climate where you can have 100 degrees and 100% humidity followed by a long drenching rain that ends with the temperature and humidity still in triple digits.
The defensiveness of Seattle about its weather starts with official statements. “Seattle gets less rain than New York, Miami and dozens of other U.S. cities,” Seattle’s Convention and Visitors Bureau declares a tad testily on its website. So what? And it’s an open secret within the city’s real estate community that almost every broker deceptively Photoshops the photos for their new listings to insert a bright clear blue sky behind your future home rather than the bland gray sky you’re far more likely to see.
Now, Seattle is hardly alone in its fixation with rain, which, as the old saying goes, is trouble when you have it and trouble when you don’t. But it can manifest itself elsewhere in strange ways. Take Los Angeles, where I lived for seven years, which gets less than half the rain of Seattle and almost all of it in the winter months. Unlike Seattle, Angelenos have an irrational fear of rain, as though they will be swept off a road by a mudslide.
One year, our family threw a New Year’s Eve party. There was a threat of rain. A full one-third of our expected guests called with regrets, citing the forecast. Too risky on the roads, they said. Some lived just a few blocks away.
In fact, no rain fell. We ate Swedish meatballs for a week.
One thing about living along Puget Sound is certain. By the time I’m no longer New To Seattle, I will have saved a fortune on sunscreen.