- Education and Science
The Pacific Northwest Rain Classification System
Living in Western Washington (Olympia to be exact) gives one a certain perspective when it comes to the topic of rain. Since we experience rain about 60% of each year you would think we would be bored to tears by the subject and uncontrollably shake and shudder at the mere mention of the word but in fact most of us are fascinated and, dare I say, obsessed with it. Do you think it’s going to rain today? How much rain are we supposed to get today? What time is it going to start raining? How long is it supposed to rain? Can we get our errands done before it starts raining? And on and on it goes around this area of the country. There is no denying the obvious: we have a love/hate relationship with rain.
We will grumble loudly and often but if relatives come from out of town you should hear us defending our corner of the country. Oh sure, it rains a bit (we actually say that…a bit) but look at how green everything is! Well, yes, it’s wet for sure but nothing like you’ll see down near the Amazon! Well, at least we don’t have to battle all of that snow during the winter! Beautiful weather, don’t you think? Not hot like some parts of the country!
We actually get defensive and peeved when people trash-talk our lovely rain. It is, after all, a part of who we are and we’ll be damned if we’ll allow strangers to look down their noses at our weather. Those of us who have lived here quite some time were molded (or is that moulded) by our weather; it has made us strong and thick-skinned and we laugh in the face of our daily downpours. Besides, the rain is a natural deterrent when people from California consider moving here to get away from the smog and traffic. That in itself is an excellent reason to love the rain.
As you might suspect we have our own way of describing our precious rain and in fact (I’m making this up now) we mark the months of the year by the type of rain we get. I’d like to share our monthly terms of endearment regarding rain with you if you don’t mind. I’m just an old teacher and I love the chance to pass on a little local knowledge to y’all.
This month is named “White Rain Month” and it is a joy to behold. During most Januarys we can usually count on the coldest temperatures as cold fronts sneak down the Frasier River Valley from Canada. Shortly after the first of the year hundreds of thousands of Northwest natives will put on their North Face fleece and await the arrival of the white rain. It starts out as normal rain but then slowly changes colors and rests upon the evergreen trees and any cats dumb enough to be outside. Everyone stands around with cameras taking pictures and emailing their relatives in Florida telling them how lovely it is outside.
The relatives in Florida are laughing quite loudly at these emails, almost as loudly as the sounds of the evergreen limbs cracking and falling down on power lines causing widespread blackouts. Oh yes, we love the white rain!
We refer to February as the “Flowing River Month.” The white rain has melted by this time, raising the local rivers above flood stage, and most who live by those rivers are quite busy filling sandbags so that the cat, which just thawed out from its time being buried under the white rain, won’t drown in the flowing river rain.
Power has been restored only to be replaced by more power outages caused by the heavy winds that accompany the flowing river rains. By the end of this month there is always a sudden increase in air traffic out of the state, usually booked as one-way tickets.
The “Biblical Month” smoothly transitions from the flowing river month. Truthfully, few of us who live here and have not left by this time can tell when one month ends and another begins. We hear reports of spring in the Southern states but to us it is just another example of yellow journalism. Maybe we don’t pray properly around here! Whatever the reason we seem to get our heaviest rain in March and it is, without a doubt, of Biblical proportions. I am convinced that one day I will wake up on a March day and I will look out my window and see an ark floating by, but unlike the Bible story this ark will be filled with nothing but cats who are damn tired of the white rain and the flowing river rain and they are getting the hell out of this state.
We dub this month “Dash All Hopes Rain Month” because it is oh, so cruel. By this time we have all heard reports that spring has arrived in two-thirds of the United States and yet we look out the window and North Face gear is still being worn. You have to give us credit, though, we bravely step outside and attempt to prepare our gardens for the “expected” summer season. We enthusiastically buy packets of seeds and break the ground (and our backs), all in hopes that one day the weather gods will smile upon us and allow us one day, just one damn day, of sunshine. The rust is chipped off of the barbecues, the fallen limbs are run through the chipping machines and the cats have arrived back home, a bit mangy but welcomed nonetheless.
“Car Washing Month” arrives to much fanfare. It is warm enough in May so that we can go out and wash our vehicles and practice conservation at the same time. All we have to do is suds the car up and let the warm rain rinse it off. Bulldozers are out in force clearing the mud from the streets, kids are out splashing in puddles that threaten to swallow them, cats are venturing back outside and all in all it is a rather joyous time in our neck of the woods. Summer is near and spirits are soaring in the great Pacific Northwest.
“Liquid Sunshine Month” and the livin’ is easy! Ducks are quacking, mushrooms and moss are growing and the Goodwill Stores are receiving countless donations of North Face gear, for in Olympia we have very short memories. It is common knowledge in our area that summer does not officially begin until July 5th so woe to the fool who plans a camping trip in June. This is a light-drizzle month, hardly worth noticing, and again we practice conservation by taking our morning showers outdoors. We just put on our swimming trunks, lather up and stand out on the lawn. Invigorating and a lovely way to meet your neighbors up close and personal. Cats are usually eating more than normal in June in preparation for the long winter months when we get real rain. In fact, Washington leads the nation in the number of obese cats and with good reason.
Summer has arrived (after the 5th of course) and we proudly call this “Playfully Misty Month.” It is a strange sensation to prepare for a shower on your lawn and not have enough rain to wash off the soap. Most of us crane our necks and look to the sky, wondering what the hell is the matter? Occasionally the sky is so bright we are forced to look for our sunglasses which of course we have misplaced and lost, so off we go to the store for another pair. I personally love to go to the beach in July and watch the good looking women walk by in their bikinis and rubber boots.
While most of the country is sweltering in summer heat or dodging tornadoes, we in Washington are basking in the liquid warmth of “Cloudburst Month.” Most of us are quite pleased when August gets here because we have pretty much had it with the heat and besides, we are terribly confused and off-kilter if the serious rain is gone for too long. August allows us to occasionally frolic in the sunshine and then cool off when the skies open up and drench us like drowned rats in a flooded sewer.
Cloudburst Month serves another purpose as well: if we had too much sun Californians might start to like it here too much and consider, once again, moving here. Many of them are here in August, walking around wearing their Foster Grants and neon leisure suits and an occasional cloudburst sufficiently dampens their spirits and ruins their Gucci Guccis!
“Forget How To Drive Month” is a yearly occurrence and yet one we never remember. The sun has been out just enough in the past two months that most citizens of our lovely state forget how to drive in a real rain. It happens every year without fail. A nice sunny morning catches people off-guard and when the skies open up the freeway is clogged with accidents and the city streets clogged as thirty year olds crash into eighty year olds on the slippery road surface. It is fairly entertaining if you aren’t driving and if you are a cat it is a good time to stay off of the roads.
By the way, we also eat miniature vegetables from our garden this month; miniature because, of course, they failed to receive enough sunshine. They tend to be a bit soggy too but we like them like that way here in God’s Country!
“Wetter Than A Duck’s Ass Month” finds us all scrambling to the Goodwill to buy back our North Face clothing. This is THE place to shop for great deals on fleece and rainwear. Never mind the fact that we are buying our own stuff; we always feel like we are getting a great bargain.
The rivers are rising once again, the “Ark Watch” is our favorite pastime and cats can be seen hitchhiking on the freeway. On the bright side, Californians have now taken a right turn and can be seen buying up property in Eastern Oregon.
We affectionately refer to November as “Floating Turkey Month” and for good reason. By Thanksgiving there isn’t a snowball’s chance in hell that our meal will be dry. The roof is leaking, everything tastes like wet mittens and fungus is growing between our toes. If we must be thankful for something most of us give thanks that we haven’t grown tail feathers by this time.
We absolutely refuse to turn on the television so that we don’t hear reports of sunny and eighty in Florida. All hope is gone by this month and any chance of civility is long gone. Happy Friggin’ Holidays!
Yes, the end of another year brings us “Santa Drowned In The Backyard Month.” We have been known to have rain all thirty-one days in December. We cringe at the sound of thunder, shriek with each flash of lightning and huddle together, broken spirits all, deliriously dreaming of sandy beaches and drinks with little umbrellas. The only thing that keeps us moving forward yet another day is that it will soon be January and the rain will change color.
THE AUTHOR’S FINAL WORDS
I’m writing this at the tail end of “Dash All Hopes Month.” The vegetables are poking out of the ground, the rain has returned after two days in the seventies and I’m packing my North Face clothing in a box for Goodwill. I’m a Northwest native and damn proud of it! I need to go now and find the paddles for the canoe. It looks like a drencher is a’comin’.
2012 William D. Holland (aka billybuc)