Tag Archive | Weather

False dichotomies: talking weather, mostly

I love autumn. (source: travelization.net)

I love autumn. (source: travelization.net)

I love autumn. I love the leaves changing colors, the final blooms on lots of flowers, fruit forming on trees, cool drizzly mornings… not to mention decorating for Halloween, planning for Thanksgiving and Christmas, and other fun things.

I don’t like hot weather. Most anyone who knows me knows that. And I also really dislike snow: specifically having to slog through snow, deal with the way many drivers behave in snow (and how some seem to think that snow and ice give them permission to ignore pedestrians altogether), ice-slippery walkways, and so forth. And twice every year, when one of the other of those disliked kinds of weather are happening, and I say something about it, someone (whether it be a reader of my blog, some random twitter commenter, or even a long time friend), will exclaim in utter disbelief. “How can you not love winter? I thought you hated hot weather!?” Or, “How can you complain about this warm weather when you were bitching about snow six months ago?”

It’s like they think it is a binary: you are allowed to hate either heat or cold, and if you dislike one you must love the other. That’s nonsense. What I hear when they decry my supposed inconsistency is, “Why are you objecting to being stabbed in the heart? I thought you despised poison!”

I grew up in the central Rocky Mountains, which is ski country, and where snow season runs from mid-October to mid-May. Every memory I have of going trick-or-treating on Halloween as a child involved wearing snow boots or galoshes, a heavy coat and gloves. Sometimes we skipped whole blocks of houses because the snowplow had been through to clear the street, and the sidewalk was completely blocked by an eight-foot-tall pile of snow, ice, and slush embedded with copious amounts of gravel and asphalt.

Those big plow-drifts were a favorite source of snowball-material for the kinds of bullies that I was always the target of. So while it would be an exaggeration to say that snowball fights are triggering for me, the imagery evoked by alluding to snowball fights is never pleasant for me.

My point is, I have experienced snow. I have literally, as a child, walked to school in minus-fifteen degree weather. If I never have to be in snow again I’ll be perfectly happy.

Yet, I love Christmas and specifically decorating for Christmas. You will see snow-speckled ornaments on many of my trees. I can sing more harmony parts to “Let It Snow” “Sleighride” and “Winter Wonderland” than you can shake a stick at. I’m able to separate my dislike of trudging through snow from actual fun activities one can have in such weather.

Similarly, with hot weather one problem I have is that I come from a long line of pale-pink-bluish freckled people. My skin does not know how to tan. It knows three hues: the pale pink with blue highlights, searing bright red covered with blisters, then when that peels off, pale pink-bluish with orange freckles. Also, I come from a long line of people who develop sun-induced skin cancers (and have even had a small one myself!), so I’m under doctor’s orders to stay out of the sun. Plus, my body just doesn’t deal with high temperatures. I just want to sleep through the hot parts of the day, but day jobs aren’t conducive to that, so I’m cranky, listless, and miserable when it gets hot.

Knowing about how much I hate heat waves and snow, it really should be no surprise how much I love autumn weather. That doesn’t mean that I don’t find some things about the transitions of autumn occasionally inconvenient, annoying, or just startling. Most years, for instance, I don’t switch from my medium-weight jacket to my coat when I ought. I’ll wear the medium jacket for a few weeks and everything is fine. Then one day during the walk home from work, it will be way colder than it had been in the morning, and I’ll wish I’d switched to my heavy coat.

A bit over a week ago I was walking home from work and turned a corner, and was startled at how dark the sidewalk was. When I’d left the office, it had seemed to still be full daylight. The sun was actually at the horizon, but since the first bit of my walk is between tall buildings, I didn’t actually see the sun setting. Yeah, I knew how late it was, and I know that sunset gets a minute or two earlier every day during the fall, but I was thinking about other things (listening to an audiobook, as I recall). Over the course of the walk the sun sank slowly, the light very gradually getting dimmer. By the time I was nearly home, it wasn’t really dark out, yet, but the sky was definitely closer to indigo than azure. And the particular section of street I was turning onto, just a few blocks from home, has a lot of trees on it plus to the west were a pair of taller condominium complexes, casting long shadows over the whole street. It still wasn’t dark, but it was a significant change walking into those shadows, particularly when my mind was in another time and place because of the audiobook.

I literally stopped for a moment, startled at the sudden dimness. It only took a millisecond to realize that I just hadn’t been paying attention to the deepening twilight and the shadows. But it was the starkest reminder I’d had that sunset was getting a lot earlier than it has been. Sometimes it only takes a well-timed turn to throw a gradual change into stark contrast.

When I mentioned to a friend how early sunset was getting, they responded with a bit of a shrug. They weren’t blowing me off, but it felt that way. To be fair, I didn’t give them all the context of how I hit that mark.

But it reminds me that we aren’t all paying attention to the same things. I’ve been watching the slow but very steady embrace of racist, xenophobic, sectarian bigotry by leaders of the Republican Party for the last 36 years. I have called out and warned about the consequences of encouraging voters to blame people with different accents, skin color, religious beliefs, et cetera for the real economic pain that people feel. I have been decrying the stagnation and then contraction of wages, while giving bigger and bigger tax cuts to the wealth. I’ve been pointing out the dangers of dismantling labor unions, giving corporations more and more legal rights. I’ve been watching the slow slide. I’ve been trying to tell friends and acquaintances that the Republican politicians are the very people picking their pockets while placing the blame on immigrants, brown people, queers asking for equal rights, and so forth.

So I am well aware that voting for Romney was voting for all the same bigotry and economic inequality that Trump embodies. Just as voting for McCain was, and voting for Bush, and so on. I have been watching the gradual shift, well aware that the exact same bigotry underlay the policies the Reagan espoused, just more subtle and coded before. So when lifelong Republicans are reacting with horror to Trump, yeah, I’ve been pretty dismissive, telling people they had to be blind or delusional not to have seen this coming; not to have seen that they have brought it on themselves (and the rest of us).

When in fact, they just weren’t paying attention to the same things I was.

It doesn’t change the fact that, yeah, they made this bed. But I shouldn’t be quite so mean that it has taken them longer to notice at least some of the hate and ignorance.

We’ve taken a turn into shadows and muck that that have been gathering and deepening for decades. Now that a few of you have seen it, would you mind grabbing a shovel, and helping those of use trying to clear a path back to the light?

I’m worse than Goldilocks

Even as a little kid I did not sympathize with Goldilocks in the classic fairy tale. There you have the bear family with their neat little house: each family member has a favorite chair, their own bed, their own special bowl for food. And they’ve just taken a walk in the woods while they wait for their dinner to cool down, and this rude girl barges into their house, messes with all of their stuff, breaks a piece of furniture, eats a third of the food, and then decides to go to sleep in one of the beds of this house that she’s broken into.

That wasn’t all that annoyed me. I was also annoyed at how critical Goldilocks was of everything. “This chair is too hard!” “This chair is too soft!” et cetera, et cetera.

But while I can’t recall ever having barged into someone’s house and messed with their property, I do have something in common with Goldilocks: sometimes I want things exactly the way I want them, and I find myself grousing over things being inferior to what I want—sometimes in contradictory ways.

For instance, Read More…

It’s too darn hot

Its-Never-Too-Hot-To-Play-OutsideI knew July was going to be a sparse blogging month, since I’m doing Camp NaNoWriMo again, this time to wrap up my previous novel to get it published. I didn’t take into account how unproductive I become when it’s hot.

Of course, I’m always hopeful that the hot weather will hold off a little while. Statistically, the jet streams and other large weather systems that directly impact Seattle don’t switch to the summer pattern until about July 12. Even though we have only experienced measurable precipitation on Independence Day about one out of every four years (and many of the years that precipitation is a very scant trace of only a tenth of an inch or less), that’s the reason that some people often joke that “the rain will end on July 5.”

And it’s not as if the weather we’re having constitutes a heat wave according to most people. But any time the temperatures get above 80°F I start melting. I just want to find some shade with a cold breeze and a cool drink. And if I do find a moderately cool spot, I usually just fall asleep.

I’m okay most of the day, since I’m in a nice, big air conditioned office building. I have energy, I work, I get things done. But the walk home in the sun and heat just wipes me out. And we don’t usually get enough of these days for it to make economic sense for most people to have a fully air conditioned house.

We bought a new small air conditioning unit for our bedroom. In the past we had one of those window units. It worked okay, we could have one room that was a comfortable temperature. We could hang out in the bedroom for a few hours in the evening until the sun went down. The temperature outside drops considerably at that point, and we can open the doors and windows, put a fan in the front door, and cool down most of the house to a reasonable temperature again. And of course, the bedroom is cool enough that we can both sleep.

But our windows aren’t really the kind those sort of air conditioners are designed for, and there were some issues. It started dying a few years ago, I think hastened by those issues. We got rid of it. We toughed it out two years without.

The new one is one of those units on wheels, with a large PCV hose that attaches to a vent we put in the window. It’s really only intended to cool one room, but we’ve made that work before.

Each night since we got it I’ve taken various writing project materials into the bedroom intending to get work done in the cool room. And each night I made it about a half hour before needing to take a nap.

It’s supposed to be a little bit cooler today and tomorrow. Maybe I’ll get some actual writing done.

Wish me luck!

Why I hate hay fever reason #5867

Cat needs to sneeze meme.

I hate that feeling!

I had a very different post queued up for today. But between the high pollen count all week, a deluge last night, and an inexplicable heat wave inside our house, things have been weird here.

Late Wednesday afternoon at the office I was looking out the window wistfully at the rain. I’d been out earlier in the day (a small group of us walked to a nearby restaurant to have lunch with a former co-worker). It had been really pleasant. No rain, overcast enough that I didn’t need sunglasses, and not cold or breezy. The rain that was coming down later just looked nice. Yes, I like the rain, so sue me.

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In the lane, (g-d d-mn) snow is glistenin’

Lynx in the snow, by Raymond Barlow (raymondbarlow.com)

“More of this stuff? Really?!”

I understand why it’s confusing. I love Christmas music. Not just like it, I love it. I have 30-some different versions of “White Christmas” on my iPhone right now, for goodness sake! I hate hot weather. I gripe about the heat when the temperature is barely high enough for my friends from California or Arizona to think about t-shirts. I write Christmas ghost stories, every year for newrly two-decades, now. I often illustrate blog posts with pictures of lynxes, which often include snow.

So I totally understand why some of my long distance friends don’t understand just how much I despise snow. I hate snow. I have said many times that if I never have to walk in snow ever again—even if I live to be a million years old—I would be just fine.

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The wettest September ever

Otter running on frozen pond.

Walking on water’s easy, if it’s cold enough!

We broke a bunch of weather records, again. Saturday was the wettest September day ever recorded in Western Washington. Not the wettest day, but the wettest ever in a September. And before Saturday, we had already gotten enough rain that 2013 was going to be at least the third wettest September in Seattle on record. Then we had the record-breaking Saturday, and Sunday was almost as wet, and it rained more on Monday…

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Why Seattleites don’t use umbrellas

I’ve been asked the question many times: as rainy as Seattle is, why don’t any of you have umbrellas? The answer is surprisingly logical, but it takes awhile to explain.

First, despite the reputation, Seattle isn’t as rainy as you think. Manhattan gets more precipitation per year than Seattle, for example. Now, it’s true that within an hour’s drive of Seattle are rain forests that get far more rain than that, but because of mountain ranges to the east and west, plus the the enormous heat sink that is the Puget Sound (an arm of the Pacific Ocean) on one side, and the slightly less enormous heat sink of Lake Washington on the other side, we have weird weather patterns that pushes a lot of the moisture into a convergence zone north of us.

One reason the people who visit or move here from other places think it rains more than it does is because we have many, many, many days of overcast with cool temps and a damp feeling in the air—but not rain. It feels like rain, or at least as if it must have just been raining minutes ago and you just missed it. So they think of some days as rainy when there wasn’t any actual rain.

When we do have rain, all that geography I mentioned means it might be drizzling in one neighborhood, but dry as a bone only a few blocks away.

The rain itself often comes as such a light drizzle that it feels more like a heavy fog or mist than rain. On days like that, it doesn’t matter whether you have an umbrella. If you’re walking, you get damper and damper and damper just from colliding with those micro droplets that seem to hang suspended, rather than fall.

We have a variant of that, where the rain is coming down as perceptible drops, but each seems to be accompanied by a host of the micro droplets. So it feels like you’re immersed. One of my friends describes it as, “It’s like there’s no difference between the air and the river or lake or whichever body of water is nearest.”

On those very rare occasions where the rain is very heavy, it’s almost always horizontal, because it is almost always accompanied by a strong wind. Again, a regular umbrella is useless against that (and is likely to be more of a bother, as the wind keeps trying to yank it away).

While we’re on the subject of wind, we have lots of places where the wind is constant. My office is a few hundred feet from the water front, and the first two miles of my walk home from work is similarly very close to the water. There is a constant airflow either toward the water or away from it in that zone. Because it is constant, it often doesn’t feel like a breeze. It seems to be almost nothing. You notice it most on either very warm days or cold ones. Because if the breeze is coming off the water, it’s always cold. So when the weather is uncomfortably warm, the side of you body facing the water feels noticeably cooler than the other side. If the overall weather is cold, that same breeze makes one side of your body feel as if it has already frozen, and the other side is significantly less frigid.

I’ve watched people try to walk with umbrellas in that part of town a lot. I assume most of them are tourists, as there are a lot of tourist places in the neighborhood. Even though it doesn’t feel like much of a breeze, people are fighting with the umbrellas at every corner. That airflow is sneaky that way. While you’re walking along beside a building, you feel a slight tug on the umbrella, but it’s easy to hang onto. Suddenly, as you get to the intersection, the pressure starts ramping up. Again, it doesn’t feel like an actual wind in your face, yet the umbrella is suddenly yanking and swooping and surging like a living thing trying to escape you.

In between the extremes I described above, we have rain that is a bit more like what people from other parts of the world think of as rain, and on those rare days an umbrella can be helpful—for the three to five minutes it actually is raining at the spot you happen to be at. So, for three to five minutes, ten or eleven days out of the entire year, an umbrella can be useful.

I’m not a native Seattleite. So when I first moved here, I owned an umbrella—for a while I owned a few of those compact collapsing umbrellas, plus one traditional big umbrella. I tried different strategies, such as keeping one at the office, one at home, and one in the car, so I would always have one handy. Or I carried a compact one around in my backpack. The problem remained that either I didn’t happen to have it near me when it would have been useful, or I’d have problems because of the wind, or by the time I dug it out and deployed it, the rain had either stopped, or shifted to the misty drizzle.

Most of the year one needs to have at least a light jacket handy, because it can go from sunny and pleasant to overcast and cold multiple times a day. Similarly, you need to have some sunglasses nearby, because those sun breaks can be quite blinding. You will use sunglasses hundreds, maybe thousands of times a year. But an umbrella will only be useful, at the very most, a dozen times a year.

And that’s why most Seattleites don’t use umbrellas—but almost all of us have spare pairs of sunglasses stashed around.

Acclimated

“Bring your coat; it’s cold out!”

I was reminded recently of the last time I visited Arizona. It was 1982. I was attending college1 in southwest Washington. My mom, who had remarried a couple years before, was living in Phoenix with my stepdad and the older of my sisters2.

My sister was getting married3 on Christmas Eve, so I came to visit for Christmas break to attend the wedding and have Christmas with Mom.

Every time we left the house, Mom would urge me to bring my coat. And everywhere I went, I wound up carrying my coat draped over one arm. I regretted not packing several pairs of shorts. The temperature, as I recall, never dropped below the low 60s (Farenheit)4. My Mom and Step-dad weren’t the only people wearing coats at the restaurants, movie theaters, and so on. I was sweating, but surrounded by an entire city of people practically shivering from the “cold.”

December in Phoenix, at least that year, was like June in Seattle.

On the other hand, I start complaining about the heat when the temperature gets up into the high 70s—and whining by the upper 80s—which makes friends who live in Phoenix (and Texas, southern California, Florida, et cetera) laugh5. Since for only two or three weeks in August or July does Seattle temperatures get into what most people would classify as summer-ish, my tolerance for heat is nearly non-existent.

Mom’s acclimation to Phoenix winter was particularly amusing to me, because during my childhood we lived in much, much colder places. During my junior high years, for instance, one of my morning chores during winter months was to carry an extension cord out to the driveway and plug-in the engine block heater for Mom’s car. It was actually two heaters: one built into the oil pan, the other into the coolant system. It warmed up the engine block enough to make the car start easily in the cold. On those mornings where the thermometer out on our front porch showed the temperature was colder that -10°F (-23°C), I had to string the second extension cord out to plug in the engine block heater for Dad’s pickup.

It got cold enough to justify the second extension cord at least a couple dozen times each winter.

Some years ago when on Christmas Eve I called my grandmother who still lives in that small Colorado town, she told me it hadn’t been a terribly cold Christmas thus far. “We only got to 25-below6 once or twice this week!”7

And one of my cousins who was there chimed in that the windchill factor was only “minus fifteen.”

Mom lived in that part of the country for a good 18 years, yet only a year or so in Phoenix was all it took for her to start thinking that what I considered early summer weather required a coat. Not a jacket, but a coat!

People are adaptable. We get used to the environment we’re in (physical, emotional, or cultural), adjusting our comfort levels without concious thought. Adaptability is a good thing. It doesn’t hurt, every now and then, to try to step outside yourself and look at what you’ve learned to accept as normal. In the abstract, are those really good things? Is this really where you want to be? Are you really who you want to be?

Similarly, are the people you disagree with just looking at things from a different perspective? Just because I think it’s madness to wear a coat when the temperature is in the upper 60s doesn’t mean it’s wrong. Not in the way they would be if they were huddled under an umbrella complaining about getting wet when the sun is shining and the precipitation is zero.

It’s important to distinguish between the way a person reacts to facts and the facts themselves.


1. During the long stretch of attending part-time, while living with my grandparents and working several jobs.

2. Our younger half-sister was living with my dad and stepmother back in Utah.

3. Which is a story so convoluted that if I used it in the plot of a novel, critics would universally pan the book as being totally unbelievable.

4. I have been known to be out and about wearing shorts when the temperature is 50°F (10°C)—and sometimes colder.

5. Of course, the last time I was in Texas in the summer, I noticed how many people spent those hot, muggy months inside their homes air-conditioned down to the lower 70s, riding in air-conditioned cars to sit in restaurants or churches air-conditioned down to the upper 60s, so I’m not sure they have as much to laugh about as they think.

6. That’s -25°F, or -30°C.

7. Just today my half-sister, who lives nearby, commented that the high temperature this week had been 6°, or -14°C.

Frightful weather

I thought I was going to drown.

While Seattle is known for rain, most of the time what he actually experience is overcast days, with occasional scattered misting. We very, very seldom have downpours. Even the heavier showers tend to be intermittent and scattered.

But about once every winter I get caught in a true downpour that soaks through my waterproofed leather coat, and all the layers underneath.

Last night it happened early in my walk home. When I stepped outside the office building, it was barely drizzling. Three blocks later I pulled the hood of my coat over my head, as the hat was no longer enough. Then, four blocks further, it was as if angels in the sky above had aimed a bunch of firehoses right at me.

The first mile or so of my walk home is along our waterfront. Not right on it, a block away, so that about half the time there is a building between me and the open air. The deluge hit when I was on a two or three block section where there is nothing but lawn and train tracks sheilding me.

The wind was coming off the water.

Even in the height of summer, the Puget Sound only gets a bit less frigid than ice water. This time of year, the water is maybe a degree above freezing. So any breeze coming off of it is like an arctic blast.

Rain starts out high up in the sky as ice crystals. They warm up as the fall, turning into droplets of ice water. In really warm weather they may get all the way up to cool and refreshing, but this time of year, I suspect that they are only about a billionth of a degree above freezing when they reach a hapless pedestrian on the ground.

So I was being hammered by nearly frozen water. Each droplet sucking heat from me, while the cross-breeze was doing its best to finish the job and turn me into a popsicle.

And there wasn’t really any place for me to go to get out of the rain. What buildings were nearby were mostly office complexes. So I moved as fast as I could.

I decided, once I had reached the halfway mark, when my walking route meets up with a bus line, to take shelter in the bus shelter(!) and wait for a bus.

The thinng that worries me about this, is that this is the second deluge I’ve experienced this year. And December is tradionally a month where we dry out a bit after the heavy rains of November, before the heavy rains of January.

I’m getting a bad feeling about this winter’s weather.

Pineapple Express

Statistically, the last two weeks of November are the wettest time of year in Seattle. Unlike much of the rest of the year, where it’s just overcast and damp most of the time, with random drizzles or showers here and there, the end of November is all about downpours.

The Pineapple Express is a nickname for a meteorologic phenomenon responsible for many of those heavy rains. Once the upper atmosphere’s streams switch to the winter pattern, it is easy for an atmospheric river to form running from the tropical central pacific right up at northwestern Washington. The result in the city is ponds springing up on sidewalks and streets. Drivers not realizing that they can’t safely follow othr cars as closely as they were just a month ago. Cars kicking up roostertails ten feet tall and drenching pedestrians.

Still, I love the rain. Admittedly, I prefer to listen to it pouring down while I’m inside somewhere dry, preferably with a hot beverage. But I also like walking it it, hearing the raindrops drum on the hood of my coat, walking around the deepest puddles (and occassionally letting my inner five-year-old out and stomping to make as big a splash as I can).

I love the way the air smells and feels while the rain is coming down hard–different than the after-rain smell, not better, just different.

I love thinking about where these raindrops have been. Evaporated from the warm ocean surface, carried thousands of miles aloft on the jet stream, and now returning to earth. Where they will soak into the ground, some to be taken up by the grass and and evergreens, others to form creeks that flow into rivers and one day return to the ocean. They may then descend to the deepest trenches of the ocean, eventually encountering a steam vent or a submerged lava flow, which gives them the energy to start ascending toward the surface, again.

So, don’t complain about the rain. Go out there, say hello, and wish it well on this next cycle of it’s incredible journey.

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