March 27, 2011 in Features

April showers make us cower

Local folks don’t exactly shower our rainy season with compliments
By The Spokesman-Review
 

Spring, our rainy season, is when this area most closely resembles the mythic Northwest visualized by uninformed people in other parts of the country.

But instead of making us seem more like the rest of the region, a little wet weather only serves to highlight how different our area is from the more populous soggy side.

Though our relatively parched patch definitely needs the rain, many folks hereabouts seem to prefer that it come again another day, if at all.

Some of us get grumpy. Others refuse to dress for the conditions, as if stubborn denial will protect them better than a yellow slicker or, God forbid, wearing a hat.

Where West Siders more or less shrug off persistent drizzle, more than a few Inland Northwesterners seem to believe that anything short of 365 sunny days is cruel and intolerable.

And a lot of us seem to forget that, chances are, when the dark clouds clear away upon the arrival of summer, they won’t be back for a while.

Hello, forest fire season. Hello, sprinklers running up the water bill.

All right, let’s be clear. No one is suggesting that our area has a monopoly on weather weenies. Ever seen Seattle’s pants-wetting reaction to a little snow?

Still, it could be argued that rain is the Northwest’s signature meteorological condition. And even if our area’s dry climate is distinct, do we really want to pout about the comparatively small amount of rain we do receive?

It depends on who you ask.

John Livingston isn’t inclined to label us a bunch of crybabies.

“Many folks want warm, sunny days and it takes a long time to get from the last warm days of September to the sure start of summer in early July,” said the head of Spokane’s National Weather Service office.

Part of the problem is that the Spokane area’s weather is a bit of a flirt.

“As spring progresses we get teased with warmer sunny days and then go back into dreariness with cool and rainy days,” said Livingston.

Of course, not everyone here reacts to a little splash of water like the Wicked Witch of the West, who famously melted.

“I actually like it and have been known to go out and stand in warm rain,” said Spokane’s Barbara Tuttle, an accountant.

She has lived in Nevada, where she learned about truly arid conditions, and in Portland, where she learned about not letting the weather dictate your mood or activities.

Now it’s probably worth noting that there is more to life in the Inland Northwest than softball practice and a round of golf.

To be sure, area grain growers don’t complain about rain at this time of year.

“Whine about rain in Dusty, Wash.?” said Karen Broeckel, who lives on the family farm near the tiny Whitman County town.

“The people who named this place were descriptive, not creative. This is dryland farming country. Rain is liquid gold around here.”

Still, there are plenty of people around here who react to rainfall with all the grace and stoicism of sleep-deprived preschoolers denied a favorite toy.

Sure, there are those who say “At least you don’t have to shovel it” and get on with the day. A few of our friends and neighbors, though, seem to view rain as a plot or conspiracy designed to rob them of their right to live life to the fullest.

Maybe some of them just build up so much momentum from complaining about winter that their dyspepsia slops over onto spring.

It’s tempting to partly blame our lack of tolerance on certain performance-empathy TV news types. But their partly cloudy frowns are intended to convey a feel-your-pain vibe. They don’t do tough love. They just aren’t going to say, “It’s spring, deal with it.”

And we can’t really lay our irrationally low threshold for precipitation acceptance at the feet of the gods in control of weekends. They have always worked in mysterious ways.

So perhaps there’s something else going on.

Everyone here knows how, upon learning that you live in the Northwest, approximately 97 percent of people in other parts of the country say, “I hear it rains all the time there.”

If you have the inclination and the energy, you can explain how different things are on our side of the Cascades. Still, after a while, that gets old. Really old.

So maybe some people here, weary of having the wet West Side experience define “Northwest,” adopt a separatist Us vs. Them mindset.

It’s already true to an extent in politics. Why not weather, too?

Consider Bill Drew.

Born and raised in Spokane, he went on to a career as a litigator for the U.S. Department of Justice back east in the other Washington.

But after retiring, he and his wife moved back to Spokane. Here’s his take on spring soakers:

“Rain is a Seattle thing. That’s what they do. We are, emphatically, not Seattle. We are the Children of the Sun. Rain is an affront to our identity.”

So there you go.

Apparently, that isn’t just a Spokane attitude. Pete Haggart, a retired University of Idaho professor, said “Seattle weather” is an expression you hear in Moscow during a wet stretch. It is not uttered in a complimentary way.

But Haggart recommends not worrying about it.

“If we weren’t complaining about the rainy weather,” he said, “we would have to find something else to complain about.”

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