It wasn’t too many months ago, during a dry spell, when civic leaders here warned of a possible drought in 2006. The city’s drinking supply could run out, they said. Lawns could turn crispy brown. Residents of this squeaky-clean metropolis might -- banish the thought -- have to cut back on showers.
All that worrying has gone down the storm drains, drowned by rainfall that as of Friday had gone on for 26 days in a row.
The stretch of wet weather is currently the second-longest on record for the Emerald City -- behind 33 straight days in 1953. Forecasters think that record may be in jeopardy, with more rain expected in Seattle over the next 10 days.
In spots throughout the region, rivulets have turned into rivers, rivers have turned into lakes, and lakes have flowed into pastures and fields, putting greens and parking lots. Everyone around here is talking about it. In fact, there’s only one thing more prevalent than rain in these parts, and that’s talk of rain.
“The first thing I heard this morning on the radio when my alarm went off was that we had the rain for Day 25,” said Cathy Anderson, 49, a Puget Sound native who for the last seven years has maintained a Web page called “Sunless in Seattle.”
On the site, Anderson records the local weather each day and collects Seattle rain jokes. For the moment, her favorite goes like this:
A newcomer arrives in Seattle on a rainy day. He gets up the next day and it’s raining. He gets up the next day and it’s still raining. Day after day, it’s the same. Despair sets in. One afternoon, he goes out to lunch and asks the first person he meets, a young boy, “Hey kid, does it ever stop raining around here?”
The kid says, “How do I know? I’m only 6.”
Anderson is so accustomed to the soggy clime that she doesn’t notice it.
“I have lived here all my life,” she said. “I think newcomers notice it a lot more.”
People, for instance, like Kelly Gardner, 29, who on a recent day was stretching in Seattle’s Kerry Park after a run. Her first winter here, she said, “was pretty hard.” She moved to the area from Chicago in 1998. What has come to bother her most, she says, isn’t the wetness so much as the endless dark clouds that yield the wetness.
Seattle has been covered by a gray pall since Dec. 19, the first day of the current rainy streak. But it has not dampened everyone’s spirits. Many residents revel in such weather.
Said David Laskin, author of “Rains All the Time: A Connoisseur’s History of Weather in the Pacific Northwest,” “Rain is our mascot. You know, like ‘The city that never sleeps,’ or ‘What happens here stays here’ for Las Vegas.
“Statistically, there’s more rain yearly in New York City, but no one knows that,” he said. “Rain is our identity.”
Laskin moved from New York to the Seattle area in 1993. He said he wrote the book as a way of exploring the myth of constant rain in Seattle. He recalled being surprised when he bought his house and found a sprinkler system in the yard.
“I asked the previous owners why,” he said, and they described the summers with a word he’d never associated with Seattle: dry.
The author said he’d never had a problem adjusting to the Northwest’s climate. In fact, he said, “I really love the rain” -- which is a good thing, because weather forecasters around here are predicting more of it.
Gary Schneider, a Seattle-based meteorologist for the National Weather Service, isn’t guaranteeing a record-breaking year, but said there was a “good probability.”
What’s causing all the precipitation?
“There isn’t any reason you can point to,” Schneider said, explaining that these kinds of years just happen -- although it’s uncommon to have more than 20 consecutive wet days.
“There’s a rumor out there that we had 90 days of rain in the winter of ’98-99, which is true -- but it wasn’t 90 days in a row,” he said. “It was 90 days out of 120.”
Even with all the consecutive wet days, the rainfall total is above normal but not at record levels.
The “water year” for the National Weather Service begins Oct. 1. So far, Seattle has had more than 21 inches of rain -- 4-plus inches above normal. And it’s nearly twice the amount of rain measured at this time last year, when state officials were beginning to worry about a possible drought.
Now the very idea seems almost ridiculous.
The constant drizzle, interrupted by occasional downpours, has made travel difficult, and at times dangerous, throughout the Northwest.
Landslides and floods have been reported all over the region, from north of Seattle to south of Portland, Ore., disrupting train and car travel. Some roads have been closed, and numerous flood watches are in effect. In some low-lying areas near Portland and in southwest Washington, people are filling sandbags and preparing for possible evacuations.
“The ground is saturated,” Schneider said. “It just can’t hold any more water.”
Even while the governor’s office calls the current wet streak “a public safety issue,” the rain seems to grow on certain kinds of people -- so much so that they miss it when they move away.
Gwyn Montgomery, 36, a bank manager in Denver, lived in the Puget Sound area for seven years when she was growing up. She has never gotten over her love of the rain, and said she’d move back in a heartbeat if she could.
“It’s supposed to rain in Seattle,” she said. “It is beautiful. It makes you slow down, drink a hot drink and listen to it beating on the roof. I try to get to Seattle every couple of years, and if it isn’t raining, I feel cheated.”
(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)
Rainy in Seattle
Seattle is living up to its rainy reputation this winter. Friday was the city’s 26th consecutive day of rain. The record, set in 1953, is 33 consecutive days.
Monthly total rainfall at Seattle-Tacoma airport (in inches)
This year: 3.01
Record: 8.96 (2003)
This year: 5.52
Record: 11.62 (1998)
This year: 6.85
Record: 11.85 (1979)
This year: 5.97
Record: 12.92 (1953)
* As of Jan. 12
Sources: NOAA, Weather Underground, National Weather Service