May 22, 2011 in Features

Forecast: Sunny with a 50 percent chance of anxiety

By The Spokesman-Review
 

On May days here in the 1970s, I didn’t worry much when I looked out the window of my morning high school classes and saw the pouring rain.

I knew that by the time school ended in the afternoon, the sun would be in the sky. Perfect weather for our bike rides through Riverside State Park or for walks in Audubon Park.

Back then, we could easily predict the spring and summer weather in Spokane.

May? Rain in the morning, followed by afternoon clearing.

Memorial Day? Fifty-fifty chance of rain.

June? Don’t go to camp; it always rains.

Fourth of July? See Memorial Day.

July and August? Mostly hot weather, interspersed with glorious thunderstorms.

But I’m no longer predicting spring-winter weather, because the weather patterns I grew up seem to have vanished.

I miss them.

I am suffering with “weather grief.” Perhaps I am not alone.

The longtimers

I emailed several longtime Spokesman-Review readers and asked them whether they, too, miss weather patterns from their younger years.

Trudy Lundy of Colville wrote: “I grew up on a dairy farm north of Chewelah. We moved there when I was 9 (in 1945). The winters were winters – lots of snow. The summers were hot. The seasons seemed to come and go as they should.”

Said Joseph Rudmann of Spokane: “I grew up in Southern California. However, in my 21 years living in Spokane, the fall seasons are getting shorter and recently the rain parallels the Northwest’s coastal communities.

“The rainy weather brings out the worst in my bouts with rheumatoid arthritis … big time!”

Lowell Lehman of Spokane wrote: “My wife and I have lived here since 1970. (Spokane) did, indeed, have four distinct seasons. I love fall. Now it seems that fall is only a couple of weeks long, sandwiched between the tail end of a hot, dry summer and an unreasonable blast of winter.

“My wife tends to be pretty much resigned to whatever comes, but I take it more personally, especially the lack of a good fall season, and I get pretty grumpy about it.”

Added Emily Sue Dooley of Spokane: “I love each individual season. It is a tad frustrating when they mess themselves up. One (recent) day, I drove down the hill and saw bright smiling daffodils, and I smiled back at them. By the time I got to the bottom of the hill, I was in a hailstorm and began to fret about the fate of the daffodils.”

The experts

Portland psychologist Thomas Joseph Doherty specializes in environmental psychology. He recently served on an American Psychological Association task force that examined the psychological ramifications of global climate change.

Doherty wasn’t surprised to hear about this absence of predictable patterns, and the anxiety it seemed to engender in me and others, especially during the Inland Northwest’s relentlessly rainy spring.

“There’s good scientific research that shows weather patterns have effects on people’s moods,” he said. “We have seasonal affective disorders clearly tied to the weather and the amount of sunlight people receive.”

Compounding the anxiety now, Doherty said, could be dangerous weather patterns elsewhere, such as the home-devouring tornadoes that hit the South last month, killing more than 350 people.

“We have an unprecedented ability to access information in real time that humans have never had before in history,” he pointed out. “Even though we’re not physically present, the stress of that is in our bodies.”

Worry that these weird weather patterns will never go back to “normal” – due to global climate change – adds to weather gravitas, Doherty said.

“Climate change has become a way people think about the weather now that didn’t exist before, even 10 years ago,” he said. “Even someone who isn’t interested in it, per se, or jokes about climate change, it becomes part of the (weather) talk.”

Steve Newman, executive editor of the syndicated column “Earthweek” (which runs Mondays in this section) has been writing about weird weather for more than 20 years.

But even before climate change became part of weather discussions, Newman experienced weather grief and anxiety.

In an email, he explained: “Having worked as an on-air meteorologist in Syracuse and Chicago, which can have gawd-awful wintry weather, I can tell you that people (become) grief-filled and quite irritable after harsh weather for weeks on end.

“People would come up and yell at me: ‘When is this going to stop!?’ ”

The end

As I was finishing up this story Wednesday, the sun beamed all day. But it didn’t fool me.

We’ve experienced several warm, beautiful May days recently, followed by Seattle-like downpours.

The nice days remind me of the bad boyfriends of my youth who betrayed their girlfriends but then swore they’d changed their cheating ways.

The girlfriends trusted them again. And then those bad boyfriends did an Arnold Schwarzenegger.

My weather grief is lifting a bit, thanks to the people in this story. Almost all of them saw rainbows through the clouds.

Reader Joseph Rudmann, 68, whose arthritis gets activated by the rain, said: “Even with our extremes (fire storm, ice storm, 100 inches of snowfall) Spokane is absolutely the best place to live. And there (are) absolutely more important things, especially at this moment in our history, than our weather.”

Said Trudy Lundy: “The weather weirdness isn’t that bad – no hurricanes, tornadoes. Live somewhere else and you begin to appreciate the Northwest.”

My weather experts – who both believe that global climate change will mean continuing unfamiliar weather patterns – also offered silver linings.

Psychologist Doherty said getting out into the weather is an antidote to weather anxiety and grief. I remember those high school Mays so vividly, for instance, because I walked or biked each day.

“The more we understand something, the more we have a sense of competence and control,” Doherty said. “So get outside and work in your garden. Get your feet on the ground. Outside of extreme circumstances, the weather is actually quite calming, watching cloud formations, watching the sunset.

“A big part of the free-floating anxiety in terms of the weather is that many people are divorced from natural rhythms, because they spend most of their time indoors.”

And Earthweek’s Newman said: “I am about to move back to my hometown of Sarasota, Fla., after living elsewhere for 40 years. If predictions hold true, rising sea level could make (my) neighborhood subject to daily tidal flooding within my expected lifetime.

“My Uncle Russell used to always tell me, ‘You pays your money, you takes your chances.’ Despite anxiety over weather, life must go on.”


There is one comment on this story. Click here to view comment >>

Get stories like this in a free daily email