Tag Archive | Weather

Definitely did not dodge the snow and ice

It may not look like a lot, but…

New residents to the Seattle area always get amused when snow is in the forecast. Native Seattlites and long-term residents leave work early, make grocery store runs, and prepare for the worst at any forecast of more than a dusting of snow. “It’s only 2/4/6 inches!” these recent arrivals shout. “You guys are really overreacting.” If those people still live here the following winter, they do not repeat that folly. I grew up in the central Rocky Mountain region, where temperatures of -25ºF were common, where snow was deep enough most Octobers that you had to wear snow boots and a heavy coat to go trick-or-treating as a child, and so forth. So I thought I knew all about snow and cold weather. As a teen-ager when we first moved to western Washington I didn’t get it either.

There are several reasons it is different. First, we just don’t get that much snow here, at all. Maintaining large fleets of snowploughs that only get used about once every three years just doesn’t make sense for most city and county governments. We have plows, but most are the kind that can be attached to generic utility trucks. So they aren’t quick to deploy, and the drivers don’t get much practice most years.

A related issue is that usually we just don’t get that cold. The ground (and especially the asphalt on roads) stays much warmer throughout the winter than at other places. That means that if we get more than a dusting, the first bunch of snowfall immediately melts when it hits the roadway, but then as more snow falls, the asphalt gets cold enough that that melted snow turns into a sheet of ice. Which more snow is falling onto. Anyone who has lived in places that get lots of snow and has driven on it should know that there is a big difference between driving on snow and driving on ice hiding under snow.

Then there is geography. It’s very hilly here. Really hilly. And again because we don’t get freezing weather and snow often, people build houses on hills that in other parts of the country no sane person would. Several of the small towns I lived in back in Colorado, Utah, Wyoming, and Nebraska had one or two stretches of road on steep hills. Those roads never had houses or businesses along them, and every winter the city would put up big roadblocks to completely block that section of road until spring. It was a convenient short route during the summer, but the rest of the time it was closed because it is too steep to drive on safely with snow. About 80% of the roads in Seattle are as steep as the hills that used to get blocked off every winter in those small towns.

All of those hills and the many bodies of water mean that we have microclimates. My favorite example was back when I lived near the ship canal. One day I needed to walk up to a friend’s house that was a mere six blocks from my place. Six blocks up a steep hill. It was very cold and raining hard at my place, down at the bottom of the hill, and it looked like a fog bank was engulfing the hill. I started walking. About half way up, I hit the “fog bank” which was actually snow. There was almost an inch of snow at my friend’s place, and it had been snowing for a couple of hours (so she was surprised I had shown up). I picked up the stuff I was supposed to collect and walked back down the hill. It was still raining hard with no sign of snow there, just six blocks away. So you may leave your house one morning thinking you only have rain to deal with on a short drive, and suddenly find yourself slipping and sliding on ice and slush. Probably sliding backward, because you were going uphill…

Because of the microclimates and how easy a very slight shift in the upper atmosphere can flip us between snow, rain, sleet, or freezing rain, we occasionally get situations where the ground and sidewalks are covered in deep mixtures of snow, ice and slush. That is extremely hard to walk on, and your clothes get soaked with barely-not-freezing water. So even if you try to avoid driving, it can be an ordeal just to walk to a nearby store or to get to the nearest bus stop or light rail station.

The sidewalks are particularly bad because while it is the responsibility of property owners to shovel the walks, most people don’t own snow shovels (cf. above mention that we only get significant snow about once every three years)—one of the local news blogs shared a video earlier this week someone posted online of a neighbor shoveling snow using a Swiffer (indoor mopping gadget). When you combine that with how many stretches of sidewalk go past large apartment buildings (whose owners are just as unlikely as individual home owners to own a snow shovel) and how many stretches of road go past green strips and other public property which doesn’t get shoveled (or in my end of the region, how many neighborhoods don’t have sidewalks at all), well, it’s just a mess.

This year’s event has been a combination of several of our worst problems. The first big snowfall a bit over a week ago turned into sheets of ice with snow on top. Arterials were plowed and de-iced, but more snow kept coming, and sides streets all over the region remained icy slip-and-slides of doom. And more snow keeps coming. We get a break and people go out and try to shovel their drives and sidewalks…. and then it snows again. Then we got the rain/snow mix that put heavy ice on power lines and tree branches resulting in 90,000 households (including us) being without most of the night.

For some perspective: in the last 10 days we’ve had 8 times more snow than Boston has all winter. We are already the snowiest February recorded in the area in 35 years. Seatac Airport has broken a record for most snow in a single day set in 1949.

And we don’t know if it is over. Things are melting a bit today. It’s supposed to be much warmer tomorrow, which will cause more melting (at which point more trees will fall as the ground on all those hills I mentioned above turns to mud) and we may get a bit of flooding some places. Then another cold air mass looks to be moving in late Wednesday night, meaning all those wet street will turn to ice again just in time for the Thursday commute… and another wet air mass is coming toward us from the south hitting either late Thursday or early Friday. That might mean more snow. It might mean rain. It might mean freezing rain. It is likely going to mean all three just depending on where you are.

So, fun?

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We couldn’t dodge the snow and ice forever, I guess

The snow started coming down earlier than forecast.

While a whole lot of the continent was experiencing freakishly cold tempts thanks to the polar vortex, Seattle had the warmest January on record (after a warmer-than-average but not record-breaking December_. It was freaky. Three of my fuchsias on the veranda was still putting out new blooms in late December, and one of there was still doing so in late January. We had high pollen counts at the end of January that forced me to take the maximum dose of my prescription allergy medicine. It was looking like this was going to be one of those mild Seattle winters where I never got to take a break from the prescription medication at all. I mean, most years I have to take the meds for about 10 months out of the year (and I get so tired of explaining to people that yes, you can have hay fever in November—that’s peak mushroom and toadstool season!).

Then last week the local meteorology professor whose blog I read all the time explained how we might be seeing snow by Sunday, and why even though normally you can’t trust forecasts more than four days out, it was a near certainty that all this week we would have freezing weather.

The last in depth forecast I read on Saturday said that we would get snow, but likely no more than an inch of accumulation. And, because of that warmer than usual December and January, the ground was warmer than usual, so the roads and highways would almost certainly be fine Monday.

Whoops!

The forecast had also said that the snow wouldn’t hit our section of the state until nearly sundown on Sunday. So when I looked out the window Sunday afternoon as I was checking on my Superbowl Chili before 1pm and saw that snow was coming down, I was a bit freaked out.

By sundown Sunday there was more than two inches accumulated outside our place, and the snow was still coming down. Overnight lows were “only” in the low 20s Farenheit, but our power went out at about 5:30 in the morning, and by the time the sun was up enough for me to see outside, it was clear we had more than 5 inches of accumulation. All of the schools in the county closed for the day. The highway patrol as well as the state and city departments of transportation was urging everyone that could avoid driving at all to stay off the roads. It was quite icy.

Our power was restored before noon, which was nice. Because it was getting very windy in the early evening Sunday, I made an extra pot of coffee, because I figured a power outage was more than just possible. So one of the upsides to my morning was that I had coffee to drink while I was getting ready for work. It was cold coffee, but it was coffee. As I checked in at work (thank goodness for full charges on the phone and iPad) pretty much all of my co-workers were staying home either because of the roads or because their kids were home from school.

Another upside to all of this were birds at the bird feeder!

I have written before about how, when an immature Cooper’s Hawk started hanging out on my veranda we went from frequently having crowds of one to two dozen sparrows, chickadees, and juncos at our bird feeder, pecking at seeds that get scattered on the deck by the birds pecking at the feeder, or just hanging out in lines waiting for spots to open up on the feeder to me only very occasionally seeing pairs of birds arrive together, most of the time only willing to peck for seeds on the deck down where they could easily hide behind/between my planters and such.

Well, Sunday afternoon as the snow filled the sky, suddenly I had between four and eight little bird out there at a time. That day they were still doing the buddy system I had noticed before: one will peck for seeds either on the deck or the feeder, while the other perches on a tree branch or in one of my larger lavenders and keep an eye peeled; then they trade places after a couple of minutes. So it was all pairs coming to the veranda, and half of each pair would eat while the other kept watch.

I haven’t seen any sign of the hawk since about a week after Thanksgiving. Since about half of all Cooper’s Hawks migrate, it is possible that she was only in our region for about a month while slowly moving south. It’s also possible that the area (since we are in a city, despite the huge numbers of trees all around) simply didn’t have enough prey to support her long term and she moved elsewhere once our neighborhood was hunted out.

Anyway, since I was home today, and in was a day with lots of conference calls (again, thank goodness for phones with good battery life!) I got to watch the feeder. There is a lot of snow on the deck. So even though I spread a lot of extra seed Sunday afternoon once I realized the cold was driving the birds to be less cautious (I also re-filled the feeder), their only real source of food at there was the feeder itself. And the buddy system doesn’t seem to be quite as much an imperative for them.

Standing very still for many minutes back away from the window, using the zoom, I eventually managed to get a picture with more than one bird in it.

They are very skittish, and every time I tried to ease myself slowly to the window to get pictures, they scattered. I eventually managed to get a picture with two birds at the feeder and one visible on the deck below them. The little birds are so light, they don’t sink into the 4+ inches of snow on the deck!

My boss had been trying to get everyone in the department, even folks that usually work from home full time, to come in for a long whiteboarding/planning session for Tuesday. But when the places she tried to order lunch from all pointed out their delivery was iffy, given how icy the roads are expected to be (and the possibility that many schools would still be closed), she started messaging all of us about rescheduling. Her Wednesday, unfortunately, is completely booked with back-to-back management and cross-department status meetings (and since I’m one of the few other members of our group who also works on every single project {being the only technical writer}, I’m in half of those, too), so the earliest we could reschedule is Thursday. Except all the forecasts are saying (beside the temperatures not getting above freezing the rest of the week) that there will be more snow, and possible worse snow, come Thursday… well, it became obvious we need to do the meeting Tuesday, we’re just going to all be doing it remotely.

Which I’m quite happy about, because the only time I’ve been able to make my feet feel anything other than frozen since this thing started is when I’m under the electric blanket. So I really do not want to spend any time standing on frozen sidewalks waiting for a bus!

More confessions of a guy who likes the rain

Picture of a person under an umbrella in heavy rain, labeled Tourists. Below, a man stands in the rain, head tilted up, eyes closed, labeled True Washingtonians.

(Click to embiggen)

Thursday evening, as I was turning out lights and otherwise getting ready to climb into bed, rain started pounding the roof, hard. It had probably been raining for awhile, but I hadn’t noticed the sound until then. We’ve been getting a lot of drizzly days the last couple of weeks, but this was the first time in a long, long time that I’d heard that kind of really hard rain. So I pulled on my slippers and a shirt (since I was just wearing my fleece Seahawks shorts and ankle socks), went out on the veranda, stepped up to the rail, and held out my arms to let the rain fall on my for a few minutes.

It was the first time that evening that I had felt good.

I didn’t realize that I was sick on Thursday until about an hour after getting home from work, when the cough started. I have hay fever for at least ten months of the year, and weather transition periods are one of the times that my symptoms get really bad. And the previous two weeks, while we had had some drizzle and scattered showers with temperatures in the 60s, we’d also had at least one day each week when clouds all vanished and the temp edged up passed 80. So lots of transitions.

My hay fever almost never includes coughing. Congestion, sinus headache, sometimes achey/itchy eyes, and yes lots of sneezing, but not coughing. And if the hay fever has been severe for a few days in a row, I also start feeling really run down.

So all day Thursday I had felt like I had no energy, I had to work hard to stay focused on tasks at work (it was one of the few times I was glad that I had nearly half the day in meetings). My sinuses were very painful to the point that my throat was feeling it. I was in denial that it was an actual cold right up until that cough.

And a funny thing about when I’m in denial that I’m sick: the moment I admit that maybe it might not be hay fever, I notice that every symptom I have is worse. It’s like the denial sets up a dampener that cuts out half the pain signals coming in? I realized that in addition to the coughing, my throat was more acutely sore than I had thought, and my sinus headache was worse, et cetera.

I took some cold meds right away, but the coughing kept going, and it seemed like each coughing fit made my whole body more miserable.

So that moment of standing in the rain and really, really enjoying it was great.

Friday had already been scheduled as a work from home day, so I hunkered down with coffee and tea and got through it. We had to cancel weekend plans with friends—not just because I was miserable, but also because we don’t want to infect anyone. The two times that I had to leave the house, I wore a mask and did a handwash before leaving the house. I already had a doctor appointment scheduled for Tuesday morning where (along with periodic blood work) I was supposed to get my flu shot, so I figured if the cold hadn’t begun to get better by then, I’d see what the doctor thought.

He doesn’t think I have the flu, but I do have an upper respiratory infection. So! Antibiotics for me!

At several points during the weekend I took comfort in opening the windows so I can hear the rain coming down. I started having the chills on Saturday, so I haven’t been going out on the veranda except briefly to refill the bird feeder, but I can hear the rain just fine with the windows open, and even feel the cool, moist rainy breeze on my face occasionally.

I love Seattle weather when it’s rainy or just cool and overcast.

I love it so much that I get cranky at people complaining about the weather when it arrives in the fall, or when it lingers into June. I try not to say disparaging things to them when it comes up, because I have been know to gripe and whine about the heat during the seven-ish weeks of real summer weather we get most years. But in my head I think of the folks who gripe about our weather as anti-rain trolls—particularly the ones who wax rhapsodic about the great hiking trails or the beautiful mountains that they love to ski or snowboard on.

All that snow? It’s what happens to the rain storms after they pass over us and get to the mountains. All those gorgeous hiking trails? There’s a reason we call most of the forested area of the Olympic Pennisula a rain forest. Yeah, we have pine trees (and other conifers) instead of a tropical plants, but it’s still a rain forest and all those lovely hiking trails wouldn’t exist if we didn’t have all the rain.

So, welcome to one of my favorite times of year! Let me enjoy the rain in peace. I’ll try to whine less about being sick. And I will continue to try to keep my griping about the heat each summer to a minimum. Deal?

Weekend Update 9/15/2018: Disasters

The Hawaii Department of Transportation reports flooding and debris left by Hurricane Olivia have blocked the  Hana Highway near Hana on the island of Maui. (Hawaii Department of Transportation via AP)

The Hawaii Department of Transportation reports flooding and debris left by Hurricane Olivia have blocked the Hana Highway near Hana on the island of Maui. (Hawaii Department of Transportation via AP)

Horrible weather is lashing the southeastern coast of the nation, but that’s not the only place in the U.S. where hurricanes are causing trouble. A few days ago Hawaii was dealing with a hurricane, but you sure couldn’t tell it from the national news: Olivia fades away from Hawaii, but its moisture still tormenting Hawaiian isles. And that’s not the first hurricane to hit Hawaii this within the last four weeks: Hawaii Begins Massive Cleanup from Hurricane Lane. Again, something the big media outlets barely covered.

© 2018 Ed Hall (click to embiggen)

© 2018 Ed Hall (click to embiggen)

And let’s not forget that a year ago Puerto Rico, which is also part of the United States, was devastated by a hurricane: We Must Push for Better in Puerto Rico Because President Trump Simply Doesn’t Care and Puerto Rico’s road to recovery. And Trump lied about Puerto Rico’s death toll after Hurricane Maria and Trump’s Psychotic Puerto Rico Tweets Erase Human Beings From Existence for Political Gain.

Meanwhile, there is no shortage of news about hurricane Florence, and it is a big deal. People are in danger. It is important: Tropical Storm Florence crawls inland as it batters North and South Carolina and Florence: At least five dead, nearly 1 million without power as storm swamps Carolinas. But even Florence has a political angle: Trump Made It Clear to Virginia That Blue States Now Get Treated Like the Brown People of Puerto Rico:

Virginia’s entire Congressional delegation begged Trump to issue a federal emergency declaration for Virginia, which [as of Tuesday, when this story was publish was] more exposed to the destructive force of the monster hurricane Florence than North Carolina, and is likely to be hit as hard as South Carolina. But initially, Trump only offered emergency declarations for North and South Carolina. He completely ignored Virginia. For many, this omission looked very political. Virginia is now a blue state, as Trump very well knows. By excluding Virginia up until just [Tuesday] afternoon, he sent a clear message of how disasters in the age of climate change will be handled by the emergency government agencies he now controls. If you are a blue state, then he is going to treat you in the same way he treated Puerto Rico (over 4,000 dead, no electricity for a year, etc.). If you are blue, you are as good as brown.

I already mentioned Olivia (which seems to have downgraded to a tropical depression, but can still pack a wallop), but Florence isn’t the only storm looming: Hurricane Florence isn’t alone: Helene, Isaac, Joyce, Olivia, even a typhoon also out there.

Baton down the hatches, and don’t count on any timely help from the feds.

Why I hate hay fever reason #6502

“Wait, I'm going to sneeze.”

“Wait, I’m going to sneeze.”

Some people will be surprised that I’m writing about hay fever when it is practically autumn. Well, this is one of the reasons my hay fever is so annoying. I have a moderate-to-severe allergic reaction to every pollen, spore, and mold that the allergists test for, and in the mild climate west of the Cascade Mountains, that means hay fever season runs from about mid-Febbruary to approximately mid-December every year.

We’ve had a significant shift in the weather this weekend. In the middle of last week we had one day where the temperature creeped above 80º in some places. All this week, the daily highs are forecast to be in the lower to mid-60s, plus rain every day.

I absolutely love this kind of weather.

Unfortunately, one of the “features” of my hay fever is that my sinuses react most harshly to changes. If a new species that hasn’t been the predominant pollen-contributor in a while ramps up production, my sinuses go bananas. If the weather changes, whether from damp and cool to dry and hot or the other direction, then it’s all congestion and running nose and red itchy eyes for a couple of days.

So, while I should be ecstatic that I had to pull the lightweight jacket out of the backpack (where it gets carried most of the summer in case we have rain) to wear for the trip in to work, I am instead sniffly and sneezing and miserable.

Pass me that box of kleenex, please?

Future hazy, or we’ll take our weather blessings as we can

“My birthstone is a coffee bean.”

(click to embiggen)

Monday evening when I left the office I noticed the slightly smoky or hazy look right away. I thought, at first, that perhaps a big truck with a load of gravel or something had just driven by and left a lot of dust in the air? Or maybe something had blown up a bunch of dirt from one of the several large construction sites near our building, you know. But as I proceeded to do my semi-random walk1, it became apparent that there was a slight haze everywhere, include, when I could see it, on the horizon. This was a bit worrying, especially remembering last year and the long stretch of days when we were blanketed in smoke from region wildfires, turning the sun a scary red, and sending everyone with hay fever and/or asthma into a bad way.

But the closest wildfires I had heard about in the news were in California. Also, since we’ve been in a heatwave, I have been paying attention to weather reports and prevailing wind directions, if for no other reason to pick which direction to aim the fans in the windows at home. And the wind had been coming from the north or northwest very consistently for days, which is the wrong direction to bring California smoke to us.

Of course, Professor Cliff Mass’s blog had the answer (including satellite pictures): Most of the of smoke has not been local, but rather came from huge fires over Siberia!

There was a silver lining to the globe-spanning smoke: it was blocking enough sun to pull region temperatures down by 1-4º Fahrenheit. Given that Sunday was the hottest day of the entire year, even a few degrees of cooling is greatly appreciated!

Wednesday morning while I was waiting for my bus, and then later walking from the bus to the office, I kept feeling phantom raindrops. My weather apps showed 0% chance of rain, and the radar showed nothing nearby. Also, the clouds didn’t look right for rain. At one corner, while waiting for the crosswalk to change, I was looking up at the cloud cover and I figured it out.

It wasn’t clouds. It was June Gloom in August. June Gloom is often a bank of fog on the region which doesn’t look like fog on the crowd, it looks like 100% cloud cover, but the bank only extends a thousand feet or so up. The air is very moist and cool, and water droplets aren’t falling from the sky, but they do occasionally form in the air around you.

And that’s a great feeling after a heatwave, let me tell you!

For the next several days, at least, the daily high temperatures are forecast only in the 70s, which is much more pleasant than we’ve had for a while. And we’re supposed to get some rain. I don’t know if it will be enough to get the creek and river levels back up from their current very low levels. And the long term forecast has some high 80s again next week, so we aren’t completely out of the woods, yet.

But I’ll gladly take several days of normal temperatures and a little rain.


Footnotes:

1. Since home is now too far from work to walk home, in an effort to replace that lost exercise, I set me watch to an open-ended outdoor walk, and walk around downtown, letting whichever crosswalk is showing WALK when I get to each corner2, until the watch says I’ve walked a mile, than I turn and head toward the bus stop.

2. I say semi-random above because, for instance, the first three blocks are not random. I walk straight up the steepest hill three blocks until I get to the mostly-flat part of downtown. And there are two major thoroughfares after that which I treat as bounding boxes. If I hit either of those and the crosswalk is green, I don’t cross, but instead circle the block and head back.

Spring has sprung, but winter isn’t through with us, yet! (and what say the squirrel god?)

On of my lavender plants on the veranda is blooming!

On of my lavender plants on the veranda is blooming!

Just over a week ago we had a pseudo-spring, when over the course of three days the daytime high temperature went from about 10 degrees below average for this time of year, to more than 25 degrees above normal (and then over the next two dropped down to right about normal). Today, on the first official day of spring, the daytime high is set to be just a teensy bit below normal. Sunny and dry, and clearly the plants are all loving it. Rain and cooler temperatures are coming. Though we’re going to just get a fringe of the enormous atmospheric river about to hit California. They are currently predicting some snow in the foothills on Friday and maybe Saturday. Which is nothing compared to the winter storms heading toward the eastern U.S.

In our little corner of the world, spring is definitely here, as noted with the lavender starting to bloom, for one. Most of the rest of the flowers blooming out on my veranda are spot colors I planted weekend before last, so those don’t really count (though they are very pretty).

Most of them don’t count, that is.

The squirrel-planted tree and two pansies from last year survived the winter.

The squirrel-planted tree and two pansies from last year survived the winter.

Because in addition to my lavender plants which wintered out on the veranda, a couple of the spot color pansies from last fall survived, along with my tree. That’s right, I am growing a tree on our 5-foot wide deck. It wasn’t something I planned to be growing. See, a squirrel at our old neighborhood buried a filbert nut in one of the smallest flower pots I had, and it grew to just over 10 inches last year with a small cluster of leaves. Once I identified it (by the distinctive leaf shape), I posted pics of the little tree online and asked people’s opinions on what I should do. Everyone who replied agreed I should see how well the tree could do out there. One friend said, “Of course you keep the tree! Mustn’t anger the squirrel god.”

But, as I mentioned, the little tree was growing in the smallest flower pot that I had (there had been one smaller one at the old place, but it had a broken lip and large cracks, so I tossed it rather than move it to our new place). I was afraid the tree would quickly outgrow the pot. On the other hand, I didn’t want to damage its roots digging it up. So I left it in the pot over winter, intending to move the entire contents of the small pot into one of the big planters where I’m trying to keep my grandma’s irises alive. For whatever reason, the two pansies in the tiny pot had also survived the winter. Usually two or three of the fall pansies appear to make it through the winter, but usually in the spring when I start planting new flowers in the pots, a closer examination reveals that there are only a few green leaves visible above a decidedly sickly-yellow body of the pansy. Any time I tried to keep them, they usually died without blooming again. So I usually compost the over-winter pansies and replace them.

Since I was moving the entire pot, there was no point in pulling the two pansies loose. So they moved to the bigger planter along with the tree. It has been 9 days, and not only are they both much leafier and much greener than they were when I transplanted them, one has bloomed again! Which I’m going to take as a sign that the squirrel god is happy that I am trying to keep the tree alive. I know in the picture that the tree just looks like a stick, but just a few weeks ago it was a drab brown stick, whereas now there is clearly a lot of green in that bark. Plus there are a bunch of little buds all up and down the tree. So I expect it to be much leafier this summer.

I also moved my teeny wind chime from one of the medium pots to the bigger planter. My husband insists on calling wind chimes of all types “wind clunks” and gives me serious side eye whenever he catches me looking at them in stores. This little stained-glass butterfly and tiny chimes was a gift from a friend, and are so quiet that one has to be outside and fairly close to hear them, so my husband can ignore them.

I’ve been thinking about whether to move the bird feeder to a spot further down the veranda, away from the place where our chairs and table are. More of the birds might be brave enough to keep eating while I’m out there if it were further down. Also, most of the spilled hulls and seeds would be centered away from the section I walk on to get to the table. The down side is that the feeder would be harder to see from the living room window if I moved it down.

So, for now, I’m leaving the feeder where it is.

Pseudo spring arrived, time for flowers and to assess our plans for the veranda!

“It's like winter is really mad and keeps storming out of the room and then coming back yelling, 'And another thing!'”

(click to embiggen)

While some parts of the country were experiencing unseasonable warmth punctuated by intense winter storms in a weird whiplash effect, here in western Washington we were experiencing colder than usual temperatures. A lot colder for a while, there. And while we were getting rain, we were also having more dry days than usual. For most of my life the wet part of the year as been more about drizzly or non-raining but cool and overcast than intense rainstorms. Lately, thanks to climate change, our rainy season has been about more intense rain storms punctuating longer stretches of dry-but-overcast days. Then this weekend it was as if someone flipped a switch and turned on spring all at once. No rain, almost no clouds, and temperatures climbed from the forties into the 60s. Then Monday they soared (relatively speaking) into the low 70s!

Now the temps have dropped, but not all the way back to the 40s. Forecasts indicate that temps are going to be in the 50s all week, which is statistically more typical for this time of year. While that isn’t as cool as it was last week, it’s still a drop of about 20 degrees from Monday!

Looking up the row at all the planters after I was finished.

Looking up the row at all the planters after I was finished.

One of the things I accomplished this weekend was getting the veranda ready for spring. Which meant planting new flowers in my planters. And that meant a lot of cleaning, repotting, pouring off excess water, dumping of old potting soil and the dead remnants of last fall’s final flowers. My various lavender plants were already budding, so it is arguable that I should have started working on the other pots earlier. On the other hand, it was only a couple of weeks ago that overnight low temperatures were in the 20s, so this sudden temporary spring was a great opportunity to get things started out there.

My hanging planter had to be converted to a regular pot. I had fuchsias in it last year. At the old place I used to take the hanging planters down as soon as the plants wilted then stuck them in the basement until the next spring. Since I have to use completely contained hanging planters here (don’t want to drip muddy water on my neighbors downstairs!) I only had the one. And every time I thought it was time to take it down, I would notice not just that one of the fuchsias was still green, but it had a new flower! All through December and January it kept putting out new flowers. And a local hummingbird kept visiting it to eat, so I felt guilty thinking of taking it down.

So one evening about a month ago I was outside refilling the birdfeeder with seed, and I banged my head into the hanging planter. As it was swinging I thought I should take it down, now, because the very cold weather seemed to have finally done in the last fuchsia. As I was raising my hands to take hold of the planter, its hanging mechanism broke.

I caught the pot. Barely! The super saturated soil made the whole thing a lot heavier than I expected, and I wound up dumping about half the potting soil onto the deck, but I didn’t drop either the pot or any of its contents over the side. I set the whole thing down and figured I’d sort out what to do about the hanging bit later. This weekend I cut of the reaming bits so the plastic suspension system, planted a couple of pansies in planter, and put it at the end of the row of pots next to the railing. A new plastic hanging pot just like this one is less than 5 bucks. In a few weeks fuchsias starters should be available, so I can set up another hanging planter then. I just need to remember that before the heavy rainy season begins next fall to take the planter down, no matter what state the flowers in it are in. If one of the plants is still blooming, I can put the planter agains the rail so the flower hangs out. The hummingbird will find it.

Our poor otter planter cracked and had large chunks of terra cotta break off.

Our poor otter planter cracked and had large chunks of terra cotta break off.

Another issue we had was the otter planter. The cute terra cotta planter survived about 8 years outside at the Ballard place with only a few cracks. But she didn’t do so well this winter. I think the problem was she isn’t shielded from the rain as much at this location and we had a lot more hard freezes this winter. The super-saturated potting soil froze, expanded and broke the terra cotta in a bunch of places.

But with she can still hold a flower!

The other thing I’ve been thinking about is whether to try to grow tomatoes or some other edibles out there. Last year, since we only signed the lease on this place in mid-April, and didn’t finish clearing out the old place until the end of May, I didn’t even try tomatoes. I’m still a little ambivalent in no small part because most years I’m not sure the number of tomatoes I managed to grow were worth the expense and effort. On the other hand, when they’re perfectly ripe right off the plant they do taste so, so, so much better than the ones bought at the store. And there are possibilities for growing things other than tomatoes. There’s certainly room for more planters on the veranda!

We’ll see. I still need to get more of grandma’s irises planted. And right now the pots just have a minimum of spot color flowers. Once everything is going, I may decide that what I have now is taking up all the time I have available to pseudo garden.

Oh! I ought to mention the tree. Last year a single stalk of something came up in one of the smallest flowerpots I had, and when leaves started growing, I realized that it was a Turkish Filbert (there were a couple of yards in our old neighborhood with Filbert trees). The squirrel at the old place must have put it in the pot, and when I posted about it last year, the consensus was that we should try to keep it alive, lest we anger the squirrel god. Anything, I’ve moved it to the larger planter with the irises. If it keeps growing, I may eventually be asking around whether anyone who has a yard wants a Filbert tree.

We’ll see what grows and what doesn’t!

The otter can still hold a flower, despite the breaks!

The otter can still hold a flower, despite the breaks!

Happy Fall to All of Y’all!

“Happy Fall, y'all!”

“Happy Fall, y’all!”

I started to write up my thoughts on a few news developments that either happened or I found out about after posting this week’s round up of news and other things of interest, but I think I’ll wait on that. Yesterday was the autumnal equinox, and therefore the first day of autumn, and fall is possibly my favorite season.

There are a few things to note about this particular transition of the seasons at least where I live. First, we officially can enter summer 2017 into the weather record books for a couple of different things. It was officially the driest summer (going by solar summer: June 21-Sept 21). Seattle summers are usually relatively dry, particularly compared to our Novembers, but this year was exceptional. Only 0.52″ of rain total, and it is worth noting that 0.50″ of that rain came in the last six days! Which certainly contributed to many days that the city was blanketed in smoke from various wild fires in British Columbia, Eastern Washington, and Central Oregon.

Summer 2017 also tied for the hottest summer ever recorded (1967). Though it is worth noting that 2014 and 2013 are tied at second hottest only one-tenth of a degree cooler (and 2015 was two-tenths of a degree cooler, so we definitely have a trend going).

But that nightmare is over, at least until next year. The jet stream has shifted. We got light rain last weekend, the daytime highs have been in the high 50s to mid 60s all week. We may break 70 again late in the week, but that’s a considerable improvement over the temps just two weeks ago.

So, autumn is here! Time to start thinking about Halloween and Thanksgiving decorations. Time to break out the pumpkin spice (I actually started experimenting with pumpkin spick cocktail recipes the day we got the first rain last week).

Welcome to fall!

“Hello Autumn”

“Hello Autumn”

Weather shifts, linguistic relativity, and the search for the perfect writing beverage

“Have you ever stopped to think that maybe coffee is addicted to me?”

“Have you ever stopped to think that maybe coffee is addicted to me?”

According to the “Great Eskimo Vocabulary Hoax” a particular ethnic group had over 50 words for snow. Though I’ve also heard people misquote the same pseudo-factoid as 180 words for snow. You can follow the link to get some information on the faulty reasoning that led to the initial viral spread of the misunderstanding of an anthropologist’s book in the 1940s, but I always thought that if the myth were true, that the dialect of English spoken by inhabitants of Seattle would have developed at least 180 synonyms for drizzle. Not rain, drizzle.

Despite Seattle’s reputation for rain, we don’t get a lot of the heavy rainstorms that people who live in other parts of the world are used to. We don’t actually get that many rainy days at all. What we have are lots of overcast days. Many, many days of cool, damp weather that may include a little drizzle or mist here and there. Yeah, during some months (November, for instance) we get some deluges. This year we had literally the wettest winter since we started keeping records here 122 years ago, and last year was the second-wettest ever, so the pattern may be changing. We’ll see. In any case, much of our reputation for rain comes from all those cool, damp overcast days where it feels as if it must have just rained a bit ago, even though it may not have for several days.

Another reasons we have such a reputation is the sneaky prank Mother Nature likes to play on newcomers every spring. Every year, at some point in the month of May, we get a week or two of weather that seems like summer. It usually only gets into the low or middle seventies (Farenheit), but the thing is that after months of overcast days, drizzly days, and occasional rainstorms, a week or two of sunny weather with no rain at all and warm temperatures in the daytime fools people who think that summer is here. Never mind that most of those nights the temperatures drop back down to the 50s or 40s, in the middle of the day it was warm and sunny and dry, so summer must be here.

And then the June Gloom hits.

An upper atmosphere trough settles in causing almost constant on-shore flow. Cool, moist air from the ocean keeps coming inland. So every night we get overcast/foggy cool weather, and the clouds and fog may or may not burn off at all during the day time. And we get drizzles and light showers. Temperatures may get up into the low 70s for a little bit each day, but between the lack of sun, the damp, and the rain, it doesn’t feel that warm. Statistically, we have mostly June Gloom instead of summer until about July 12. And particularly in contrast to those couple of weeks of what seemed like summer, that long cool period breaks the spirit of people who aren’t from around here.

This last weekend was the end of our faux summer. And it was a lot warmer than our usual May foray into warmth. The temperatures got up into the 80s. But then the drizzle and rain came back. I happen to love the rain and the cooler days, but it this time it was a bit of a shock even to me. I couldn’t figure out last night—after I got home from work and ran my two errands, then peeled off my office drag and switched to shorts—why I was so cold! I actually had to pull a pair of sweat pants out of the drawer!

I’ve also heard a theory that the reason people who don’t live here long think it rains a lot is precisely because common English doesn’t have a single word that means “cool, overcast, with the impending feeling of rain.” Since the categories we sort things into are at least someone dictated by the language(s) we speak, the argument goes, people actually mentally perceive those days without rain as rainy. A friend once told me about the time she admonished her husband and son to go outside and get some activity in while the sun was out… it was late winter/early spring and the sun was not out at all, the sky was very overcast. But it wasn’t raining and it had been the day before. She said, “You live enough years in Seattle, and you start seeing any time when it isn’t raining and it isn’t so dark you need artificial light as sunny!”

We’d had enough warm days that I was starting to think that making a pot of ice tea might be a good idea. Of course, we tossed out a lot of redundant dishes and such during the packing, and when I looked in the cupboards, I couldn’t find a proper pitcher. We haven’t completely unpacked, yet, so I may well have something that would work in one of the boxes. So I didn’t want to run out and buy a pitcher. The other problem is that Michael will only drink tea if it is so saturated with sugar that you can’t get more to dissolve in. Ordinary sweet tea like my grandma’s used to make (where you dissolve several cups of sugar into the tea when the water is still boiling, because once you’ve iced it you can’t get them much sugar to dissolve into it) isn’t quite sweet enough for him. Meanwhile, I can’t drink that much sugar anymore, so I drink all my tea (hot or cold) or coffee without any sweetener.

If we had had one more day of hot weather, I would have broken down, made a mug of hot unsweetened tea with my electric kettle, then poured it into a big glass full of ice cubes. Which isn’t quite as good as having a whole pitcher of tea you can refill from, but tastes good. And now we’re going to cool weather for a while. So I’ve pulled my collection of tea bags out of the pantry. The tea bags had been out of sight since sometimes early in the move, so I haven’t been making tea at night. On days that I’m home all day, I wind up making a second pot of coffee and drinking coffee into the evening. Which is fine, except I think that tea in the afternoon and evening changes the way my brain works.

Maybe that’s why I haven’t been able to get back into the writing zone. Or maybe I’m just too tired from all the packing and unpacking. And it isn’t as if there isn’t still a lot of unpacking to do!

Maybe I should have a nice cup of tea before I tackle the next box.

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