Weather Weirdness

Moving to the Seattle area has been quite the education in more ways than one. For instance, I lived in Florida for so many (too many) decades that I assumed that weather worked the same way everywhere. Not that everyone had the pleasure of the unbearable heat and oppressive humidity that we experienced there 11 months a year. No. What I mean is, in Florida, I could look out the window, see what the weather was like, and pretty much bank on the fact that everyone within a hundred-mile radius was experiencing that same exact weather. I thought that was normal, you know?

Another thing I grew to assume in Florida was that the weather was predictable. (Granted, I left there before global warming kicked in with a vengeance. Maybe that has changed.) For the bulk of the year, I used to be able to count on what was referred to as PC-CHAT (Partly Cloudy, CHance of Afternoon Thunderstorms). In fact, in Central Florida you could practically set your watch by it. You would get a torrential downpour every day at 3 p.m.

Then I moved to the Seattle area. And boy, did I ever get schooled. I had to add the word “microclimate” to my vocabulary list. I had never even heard that word before moving here. It’s definitely a thing. You can literally drive 2 miles down the road and experience completely different weather. Two neighborhoods, just 5 miles apart, can have an average difference of seven inches of rain per year. The little valley that I live in, I’m told, almost never sees snow. But if you climb up the slope on either side of us, you can be hit with a snowstorm that requires the roads to be plowed.

I can sometimes experience a 10 degree temperature difference between work and home. (It’s very weird to think that when I go to work, my dog and I are experiencing different weather. He refuses to talk about it.)

And predictability? Forget it. Just this year, city government officials were expecting a storm with such high winds that they actually activated the Emergency Operations Center, and many city employees worked through the night, expecting disaster. There was the usual panic as residents rushed out to buy last minute supplies and batten down the hatches. But the storm took a sharp turn and missed us entirely. And just the other day it snowed. That wasn’t even in the forecast. It took everyone by surprise.

The meteorologists around here certainly have their work cut out for them. Why is that? Well, there are a number of factors that come into play around here that cause us to be in a climactic washing machine of sorts. The first is that we are nestled between two north/south mountain ranges—the Olympics and the Cascades. These ranges are the cause of another new vocabulary term for me: “rain shadow”. As the weather travels eastward, the mountains rob the atmosphere of a lot of the moisture, so people living just to the east of the mountains experience a lot less rain. And those to the west have the pleasure of seeing the clouds stall right above them as they hit the mountains.

And north of Seattle you tend to get a light, ever-present drizzle, whereas south of Seattle you may not see rain as often, but when you do, it comes down a lot harder. And the closer you are to the water, the less rain you tend to see. Go figure. It’s like crossing the border into another country or something.

Another factor, of course, is elevation. There are a lot of hills and valleys in this area. The higher up you are, the more apt you will be to be snowed upon. That makes sense. But since the elevation shifts so abruptly here, the weather is notably different from one neighborhood to the next. And then being right on Puget Sound adds another level of complexity that I have yet to fathom.

So, yeah, there’s a learning curve to living out here. And now that I’ve bought a house in a completely different microclimate, I’m back to square one. But I think I’m up for the challenge.

Seattle microclimates

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6 thoughts on “Weather Weirdness

  1. I don’t even bother with weather forecasts anymore. When they’re not completely exaggerated (two snowflakes and it’s Snowmageddon [year], they’re simply unreliable. Quite a contrast to the five years I spent in Tokyo, where (except for the occasional unexpected momentary downpour) I could reliably dress and carry an umbrella (or not) based on the forecast in the morning paper: If the forecast high was less than 10 degrees celsius, wear a jacket or coat; if the chance of rain was greater than 20%, bring an umbrella.

  2. I love this post! I was born here in Seattle but have never been able to explain as well as you have done here, all of the different factors (oh, but don’t forget “convergence zone!” I have always loved that the weather can be different, in as little as two miles apart, as you have told here, but maybe some people won’t believe it!

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