Decades ago, as a journalist getting shot at in the Middle East, I had occasion to visit Abu Dhabi. That’s one of the seven states comprising the United Arab Emirates along the Persian Gulf. Abu Dhabi is (and was) an oil-rich, crescent-shaped lump of unforgiving desert. Lots of desert. Outside the capital city of Abu Dhabi, where an irrigation project tried to spruce up landscaping along city streets, there was little green growing in the wild. So little green, in fact, that I was told more than once that nomadic bedouin tribes went crazy when they came across a weed growing in the desert. It was green and growing!
Now that I am New To Seattle, I perceive much the same mindset among Seattelites when, during the long period from Halloween to Memorial Day, they encounter bursts of sun that often last for just a few minutes. Locally, these are called sunbreaks, and they really seem to excite people the same way a relatively rare day materializes during the winter in which nearby mountains can be seen in all directions.
In Seattle, sunbreaks receive prominence in weather forecasts all out of proportion to their physical significance. In most of the rest of the country, weather forecasts emphasizing sunbreaks would be ridiculed as not being very useful in planning one’s day. But not so in Seattle, where broadcast meteorologists seem to get as excited up over the possibility of sunbreaks as the CNBC crowd does over a tiny rise in the stock market that says nothing about the longer trend.
Note that I wrote “physical significance.” The emotional or psychological significance is something else and, in my judgment, the real reason behind what’s going on. Seattle’s 229 days a year of no sun leads major cities, while the suicide rate ranks in the top fifth. (You can see the data here.) From my personal conversations around Seattle, there seems to be a widely held local belief blaming the suicide rate at least in part on long periods of unrelenting gray skies. So perhaps TV meteorologists, who are among the most cheerful folks on the tube, feel it among their job responsibilities to give hope. What easier way than to talk up the possibility of sunbreaks? It’s not like they’d get sued if they’re wrong–which, from what I see, they often are.
Another comparison that comes to mind–maybe a better one–is those old Frankenstein horror movies in which someone in the lab exclaims “It’s alive!” as the creature twitches. Of course, the euphoria soon fades.
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