It’s raining in Seattle today and tomorrow. This should come as no surprise to those who know the reputation of this part of the world. But in fact, this rain is special. It’s the first storm of the year; a harbinger for a change of season that strikes at the core of how it feels to live in the Pacific Northwest.
You see, this time of year, I want it to rain for days. I want an atmospheric river to roll off the Pacific and slam Seattle with precipitation. I want to look at the weather map and see greens, yellows and oranges. Thankfully, I live in a place that makes the timely arrival of rain an absolute certainty.
It’s not simply the arrival of rain, but the transition to a different environment and way of life. The drear has a certain dark beauty; a low-contrast softness. There’s no need to squint or close the blinds. Even the sound of the rain on our house is music to my ears, a lullaby.
In this feeling, I am not alone:
Indeed. This is my 15th Seattle winter and I anticipate the return of rain more each year. For me, it provides a sense of relief, a return to normalcy, a time to get back to real life and get things done.
To understand why this is the case for so many Seattleites, it helps to understand the reality of Seattle weather.
Our summer really begins on July 5th when, like clockwork, the darkness is replaced by remarkably consistent sunshine and warmth. Our average high in July and August is around 75 degrees and the sun persists for weeks.
Seattle is often drier than Phoenix in this period because we don’t get hot or humid enough to have many thunderstorms. It’s glorious.
All that comes to an end around October 15th, when after three months, the sun yields, once again, to clouds and rain. This season brings with it a constant state of dank mossiness. Precipitation falls, but it often seems less like rain and more like a cool mist that surrounds you. Perhaps it’s for this reason that Seattleites rarely use umbrellas (it’s how we spot visitors). A good Gore-tex jacket is the standard.
Between the misty days, winter storms can produce inches of rain in the city and feet of snow in the Cascade mountains. Mount Baker Ski Area, less than three hours from Seattle, holds the world record for annual snowfall with 95 feet of snow over 1998–1999. Accordingly, Seattleites adopt a more indoor and/or ski-mountain lifestyle that lasts into spring.
April and May bring warmth and longer days, but the cloudy darkness often seeps into June.
Relief — Sweet But Fleeting
After months and months of darkness and rain, it’s no surprise that the arrival of summer sunshine is a huge relief for everyone in Seattle. We’ve earned it and a whole new lifestyle can begin again.
But the arrival of summer sun comes with an obligation, a duty to make up for lost time, a need to squeeze every drop of fun from a few months of long warm days. It’s a feeling of pressure, pressure to make the most of a fleeting resource.
In some ways, summer in Seattle is like a romantic long-distance relationship. Think about it this way:
Two lovebirds, separated by geography and time, plan a glorious weekend together. For weeks, they plan diligently for making the absolute most of their limited time together. It will be nirvana.
When the day finally comes, it’s amazing. They are so relieved to finally, at long last, be together. Over delicious meals, long walks and private time together, their enjoyment becomes mixed with anxious feeling that gnaws at them.
A kind of pressure builds. The tick-tock of the weekend clock gets louder. Every minute they both feel the need to do more, to make the weekend that much more memorable. They ask:
Is this what we should be doing? Is he/she having fun? Are we making the most of our limited time together?
The pressure has a way of adding stress to what is supposed to be a glorious, carefree experience together. By the time the weekend is over, tearful goodbyes lead to a bit of relief. The pressure goes away. What’s done is done.
And so it is with summers in Seattle.
Seattle’s short summer is a kind of long distance relationship we have with the sun. We spend months anticipating its return and all the time apart creates a real sense of urgency. Every summer day, bright sun arrives around 5:30am and whispers to me “I won’t be around for long, make today count!”
In July and August the whole city comes alive. Sundresses appear in parks along with the lilies. Instagram becomes full of wilderness hikes, boats and BBQs. It is glorious… and the pressure starts to build.
We Ask: Am I taking advantage of this time I’m given? What can I do to truly make this summer special?
By September, the shine of the sun isn’t new but the pressure remains. Grass turns brown, trees droop and something becomes clear. Like a weekend with a distant lover, no amount of planning or activities will actually be enough to truly take advantage of the time we have with the sun. Nirvana is always just out of reach. But we try and try.
For me, the pressure is really a feeling of guilt. When the sun is out, I feel guilty about being indoors because a summer day indoors is a summer day wasted. By the end of September, I just want to sit on the couch and watch a movie and not feel guilty about it. I want to wake up without the pressure.
Let the clock tick — I am ready for rain.
Thankfully in October the rain returns and with it, a sense of relief. I can finally relax. I can feel better about being indoors. I can wake up and feel warm at home in front of the fire on cold wet days.
The best way to describe the feeling is “coziness”. Home feels like a refuge from the elements; a place to relax and live life more slowly. Coffee seems to taste better when it’s raining.
Each Better Than the Last
The long, dark Seattle winters do something to me. They make me forget what it’s like when the days are long and warm. The bare trees make it hard to imagine the lush Seattle spring.
And then, just as it becomes too dark for too long, the promise of a sun-kissed rendezvous returns and the great maximization begins again — along with the pressure. It’s a cycle I’ve come to love.
I do look forward to the sun, but it ends just in time, because in my heart, I also love the rain.
Images by Lee LeFever
Lee LeFever is the host and instructor of the Explainer Academy.