What it feels like when it rains in Seattle …
I saw a car the other day with a New Mexico license plate and I nudged Sara and said, “They’re going to hate it here!”
It’s an inside joke, a memory from the first weeks that we moved here from Albuquerque and still had New Mexico plates on our 1984 Volvo 240 DL wagon. We had pulled into the parking lot at the Fred Meyer in Monroe on one of those spectacular August days when the weather here is perfect, sunny and warm. As we closed our car doors someone said, “I see you’re from New Mexico.” “Yeah.” “Are you just visiting?” “No, we just moved here,” we replied. “Well,” the lady replied, “you’re going to hate it here.”
We knew what she was talking about: the rain. It’s what many people think about Seattle—that it rains all the time. But we arrived on August 5, 1997, and had a stretch of weather that I still wonder at: sunny and crystal clear and pleasant. Day after day I woke up and looked outside to clear blue skies and wondered if it would ever end. In fact, my Mom and Lee pulled into the area in their RV on November 3 it was still spectacular. We thought we had landed in Shangri-La. One of our first family outings was to Wallace Falls State Park, where Conrad and Louisa marveled at river flowing through a forest of massive trees draped in moss—a complete change from the dry creek beds and desiccated, spindly forests of the Sandias in Albuquerque. It rained that fall, eventually, but I never found it oppressive, and by the time the flowers started to pop out of the ground and it hit 60 degrees in February, I had fallen in love with living here.
It’s a good thing I did, because the next winter was the kind that tries a man’s soul. I’ve lived in nearly a dozen states and in every one of them, I’ve lived through rainy days. In some states, you know rain is a passing thing, nearly guaranteed to be over in an hour; in other states, rain may pour down in buckets, then steady out for a whole day, but you know it will pass. But here in the Pacific Northwest, when the rains start, I sometimes wonder if we’ve entered a dark tunnel that has no end, if this will be the time that the rains start and never, ever stop, trapping us in a steel-gray sodden hell.
If you’re not from here, you’ll think I exaggerate. But you never lived through the winter of 1998/99–our second year here—when the rains started on November 1 and for 90 straight days, they did not let up.* If you’ve never lived through a stretch of weather like this, it’s hard to explain quite what it feels like. For a while, early on, I laughed at waking to another day of rain: it was amusing, a novelty, something to chuckle about. After a month, all laughter stopped.
When it rains this long, and especially when it rains this long at the time of year when the days are getting shorter and shorter anyway, you start to feel the rain deep in your bones, deep in your soul. The clouds crowd overhead, heavy and thick and unbroken, gray giving way to deeper gray. Some days I swore the clouds squatted just above us, and would have smothered us but for the trees holding them off. The rain, the constant rain, varied in intensity: some days it was a light enveloping mist, what I’ve since learned to call a “dry rain,” because if you dress properly you can actually work out in the yard in it. But other days, days when a Pineapple Express system rolled in off the Pacific, we felt like we were trapped in a ship at sea, the rain lashing the side of the house and the wind gusting and howling, rattling our old single pane windows in their frames. On days like this there’s so little light you can look outside at noon and wonder if it’s dusk.
It was on a day like this, with me standing in a conference room with a co-worker, looking out into the gloomy early afternoon, when I first said: “It looks like a good day for a murder.” We locked eyes and I could see that he was concerned and maybe just a bit alarmed. He must have wondered if my thoughts were darker than he first suspected. They weren’t, don’t worry: I harbor no hostility toward others, but dark days like these felt (and feel today) like a scene in a movie, a scene where someone might be broken by this weather, broken enough to kill a man and drag the body into a rain-filled ditch.
Some years ago, a body lay in the deep ditch alongside Marsh Road, lay there long enough that the body started to stink. We smelled it for several days as we drove over the Snohomish River bridge and south across the valley, remarking to each other that a deer must have died nearby. I learned that a lone motorcyclist had disappeared not long before: his family reported him missing and a search went up. Someone put two and two together and found that he had gone off the road and died in the deep ditch. No one had seen him plunge off the road; no one saw him as they passed by. I hope he died quickly and didn’t lay there for long, listening to cars whooshing by nearby, hoping someone would see him. This terrible accident happened in the middle of the summer, but to me it always seemed like it fit better in the middle of one of our long, rainy spells. Now, when it’s dark and miserable, I say “It looks like a good day to die,” and this is what I picture.
This is where my mind goes when the rains come, not on the first day of rain but after a few days, just enough that I can imagine that we’re starting into another one of those spells. Just last year, 2020, we set a record when rain fell every day of the month of January, followed by more, heavier rain in February. Our basement flooded; I spent hours moving stuff around, up on blocks and out of the wet.
I amuse myself with these dark thoughts, I lean into them and feel their darkness. Then I sit by the fire, I read a good book, and I think about how good it will feel for the summer to return. The rainy spells never last forever—though sometimes perhaps just a bit too long.
*This is how I remember it, and apparently I am not alone in that memory, though a weather researcher actually determined that while it was not 90 days in a row it was one of the rainiest stretches on record. See https://www.glenallenweather.com/ex9/RainStreak.pdf. KOMO meteorologist Scott Sistek notes on his blog that the official streak of rainy days is actually just 33 days—easily topping Miami’s 20, Anchorage’s 17, and San Francisco’s 17.