On Wednesday, July 18, the main story of The Seattle Times was about a series of thunderstorms hereabouts that caused minimal damage. I kid you not. The headline was “Rare show of power lights up Northwest.” The article was accompanied by an above-the-fold three-quarters-of-the-way-across-the-page color photo of a multi-strand bolt descending from the heavens upon West Seattle. (The web version I linked to simply does not do full justice to the print display.)
Thunderstorms–you know, the kind of wet weather with light and sound–are pretty rare around Puget Sound for climatological reasons I have no ability whatsoever to comprehend. I think this set of storms was only the second of its kind I have witnessed since becoming New To Seattle a year ago. The rarity of such events seemed to be the hook for the story (although I suppose a very slow news day cannot be ruled out, either).
But lead, stop-the-press prominence topping the front page of a major American newspaper?
To me, the subtext–and maybe the more significant but unwritten story–might be what the continuing rain is quietly doing to the psyche of the Seattle population.
I mean, this is supposed to be the gloriously sunny dry season, the spell from just after July 4 to sometime in October. The three months of the year that gets the locals through the gloom of the other nine and, if you believe the talk, directs their minds away from thoughts of suicide. The time when the mountains are out and Vitamin D pills are unneeded. The battery charge that empowers residents for the winter return of wet, cloudy, short days. The period when Seattleites thumb their noses at the rest of the country and say, “Sure, it rains here a lot, but look what we have now.”
Yesterday, July 20, it rained at my Magnolia house for about eight hours. Pretty heavy at times. Heard some decent thunder, too. The sun finally came out. The current prediction is for more rain over upcoming days. So far, the precipitation this July is double the average.
Now, I don’t have any data on this; what I’m proposing here is more my perception, or even unproved hypothesis. But over the past week–in stores and other places of public convenience–I have heard people complain about the rain in a vexed, annoyed way I did not hear with any regularity during the previous nine months, which certainly were dark and rainy.
“Enough already!” one elderly woman looking upward exclaimed to no one in particular as she left a Bartell Drugs in front of me as the skies opened up yet again. In the parking lot of Costco No. 1 on 4th Avenue S, I eavesdropped on a couple loading the car in the next stall amid a deluge. The tenor of the discussion was that a dry desert somewhere looked pretty good–even though most of the rest of the country is burning up with rainless heat.
“It’s another dark and stormy summer morning here in Seattle,” one local blogger bleakly posted yesterday. “By the sound of the rain and the chill rolling through the apartment, it’s hard to believe it is summer out there somewhere.” Wrote another blogger, “Did I mention that it’s raining today? Not helping with the energy/motivation stuff. Ugh.”
From what I can tell, Seattle residents long have obsessed about their weather. But with some rare exceptions (like the future Miss Seattle), they accept the sun-less winter skies, getting car washes in the rain and ignoring jibes about the climate from the likes of comedian Jay Leno.
But to me this onslaught of summer storms seems to be generating something else. Like anger about losing one of the big seasonal perks of Northwest living or alteration of the contract of life without consent. I suppose the unspoken fear is that the lengthened wet season this year might be a harbinger of something more permanent. In this famously unchurched town, even ominous.
Or maybe just another newspaper story about rain.
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