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Started: 2019-03-24 12:00:00

Submitted: 2019-03-24 13:18:15

Visibility: World-readable

I have a confession to make.

I don't like rain.

But wait, you ask. Seattle is the rainiest city on the planet[citation needed] so if you don't like rain, what are you doing there?

That's a good question, I'm glad you asked. But let me back up.

32nd Ave NW in the rain
32nd Ave NW in the rain

I spent most of my life in Boulder, in a climate that resembles the high desert more than the humid continental climate a few hundred miles east. In Colorado, I grew used to the summer monsoon that dominates the weather from late June to early September, bringing scattered afternoon thunderstorms. Most of the time these storms roll in, set off some lightning, drop some rain (and often hail), and roll away in an hour.

This set my expectation for how rain should behave: if I didn't like the weather, I could wait an hour, and it would probably change. In Boulder, the rain was a refreshing afternoon diversion from the heat of the day; and then it, too, would pass, and the sun would come out again.

(In Boulder, it rained more in the winter, but most of the precipitation in the winter was snow. Boulder doesn't blink when faced with a couple of inches of snow; Seattle shuts down for a week.)

Prior to moving to Seattle last year, my only experience with Seattle had been in the winter. When I stepped off the plane at SeaTac in July it was the first time I'd seen direct sunlight in Seattle.

It turned out, when I arrived in Seattle last summer — and I didn't really know this, because no one bothered to tell me in advance — that summer in Seattle is warm and sunny. At 47° north, Seattle gets sixteen hours of sun on the summer solstice. The city has actual beaches on the sound (and on Lake Washington — though Lake Union remains too polluted) and the protected water is calm enough for swimming (though the water of Puget Sound remains chilly so it's less "swimming" than "wading carefully into the water").

In the summer, at least, it become clear that part of Seattle's "rains all the time" reputation is in fact a self-perpetuated myth, a triumph of negative advertising by the locals to try to keep interlopers from California from coming here, bringing with them high housing costs and funny ideas about street parking in lanes of traffic and whether four-way residential intersections need any sort of traffic control.

(I knew I was part of the problem when, while looking at houses in Queen Anne in Seattle, I saw a house listed for $1.2 million and my very first thought was "Oh, how affordable!" But I digress.)

Beach at Golden Gardens in summer
Beach at Golden Gardens in summer

By the end of August, I still didn't like Seattle but I conceded that the summer in Seattle was at least tolerable.

Lillypads under 520 from a kayak
Lillypads under 520 from a kayak

The September came, and the rain started, and my mood began to deteriorate.

Rain in Fremont
Rain in Fremont

Within a couple of weeks of the start of the rain, I identified the crux of the problem: I don't like getting wet. When I get wet I get cold, and when I get cold I get miserable.

With that constraint in mind, I can, to some extent, work around the rain. I gave up biking to work and started driving because driving kept me warm and dry. Never mind that I rearranged my life six years ago so I didn't have to drive to work, or that I felt guilty about contributing to pollution and global warming. A little extra CO2 was a small price to pay for not being cold and wet and miserable on my way to and from work.

But it turns out, from the climate data, (and from my own observational data) that Seattle does actually get sun in the winter. The first time this happened I was sufficiently surprised that I stared, stupefied, at the sun and failed to adequately take advantage of the turn in the weather.

As the winter wore on, I took a couple of trips to visit the sun in Southern California, deliberately finding the warmest and driest and sunniest place I could easily get to. (It was not hard to find a place that was warmer, drier, or sunnier than Seattle in the winter; the only real problem was choosing among them.) I returned from these trips refreshed by my time in the desert, but still depressed by the prospect of returning to Seattle; a city which, for all of its benefits, I still don't consider to be my home and I still don't want to live.

I learned a couple of other things from the winter:

  • The lack of light in the winter bothers me, but not as much as the rain. On the winter solstice, the sun is only (theoretically) above the horizon for eight hours — and it's low enough in the sky (and the sky is often cloudy) so there's not a lot of light.
  • In the wrong conditions, mist or rain obscure my glasses. I don't think I can legally ride a bike without my glasses (I can't legally drive a car without my glasses); and I certainly can't safely ride a bike without my glasses. I can legally walk without my glasses, so if the conditions are wrong, I'll take off my glasses, so at least the fuzzy blobs are better defined.

There's one more thing going on here: I am not thrilled by my job. It's fine, in the sense that I'm still highly-paid and I get to work with Google's world-class infrastructure at one of the most successful companies of my generation, at the company that invented site reliability engineering. But I'm working as part of one of the ads product areas, which feels at least a little weird — especially working directly on analytics, which is how companies decide how to target their ads.

Rain at US-SEA-PLZ
Rain at US-SEA-PLZ

As I finish writing this, it's now the end of March. The equinox was last week, so the days are getting longer, and the climate data indicates that I can expect less rain in the spring. So for the immediate future Seattle is likely to be less actively hostile to my mental health.

I'm still worried about next winter, though. This summer my desk is moving to the big exciting new Google office in South Lake Union. This office will be much further from my house than the current Google office in Fremont, and will come with much less parking. This means I may not be able to drive when I need to drive to stay out of the rain — and I'm worried this will be bad for my mental health.