Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Probably, Rain


The weathermen around here like to comment periodically on what an interesting area we are in, meteorologically. By that they mean they really wish they worked in L.A. or somewhere they could phone in a forecast for the month and go on vacation. Here in Portland we have a lovely confluence of topographical features that result in great natural beauty, massive gastropods, and meteorologists with substance abuse issues. We take it in stride. If I need a weather report, I check the NOAA website and three different locations in the newspaper and pick the one I like the best. They won't be the same.

The TV guys look uncomfortable when they're pointing at the map. "We've got moisture coming in off the ocean," they'll say, beginning to shrug, "and an arctic blast surging in from the north"--their shoulders are now just below their ears--"and it's all going to turn on what the low pressure sweeping down the gorge decides to do." The weatherman is now noticeably shorter as measured against the latitude line on the map behind him, and he has punted as usual, phrasing his forecast in such a way that it will all be the fault of some anthropomorphized cold front with an agenda and a poker face.

It's not that there aren't things you can sort of count on. Like, it's probably not going to snow. I was excited when I moved here when, that first winter, it began to rain, and rain some more, and then a cold front was supposed to come in. Snow! I thought. I like snow. I did like snow. It was pretty and fluffy and it got you out of school for a day. I was many years past that being a factor, but it still informed my emotions. And I was not yet a mailman, for whom there are famously no snow days. Not only are there no snow days, but they're going to make you climb into an antique Jeep with slick tires and no heater and skeeter out like a greased hockey puck. The idle is set to five million RPMs in order to keep the engine from crapping out altogether and as soon as you let your foot off the brake it is just between God and gravity which ditch you end up in. This is one reason mailmen drink on the job. The other is they're alcoholics.

Nevertheless, we got no snow that year. We'd had precipitation for two months running and as soon as it got below freezing, the sun came out. The problem was we get our moisture from the south and west, which is warmer, and our cold from the north and east, which is drier.

What we don't get much of is very cold or very hot. This suits me. I do remember a particularly cold night I spent waiting for the train in Boston. It was -15F and there was a fifty-mph wind, and I thought: how interesting! I have literally never been this cold in my life. My nipples snapped off and rattled around with the coins in my pocket. Chunks of my ass calved away and clanked onto the platform. It didn't grow back for weeks.

But last week it got really cold. Oh, maybe not cold like it gets some places, but fifteen degrees, and less. We're not cut out for it. We put on our good raincoats, and then we layer on our okay raincoats and our muck raincoats, and then we're out of options. We haven't prepared. Suddenly we're Googling how to keep hummingbird feeders thawed out ("heat them"). Yes, we have winter hummingbirds. Nobody's told them about global weirding and we worry we'll find them hanging upside-down from branches like tiny popsicles.

So we have rain coming in off the ocean, cold coming in from Canada, and a large mountain in the way
of all of it. The Columbia River Gorge picks up any screwy weather it finds out east and fire-hoses it into the metropolitan area. There are so many microclimates the precipitation map looks gerrymandered.  One day we noticed it was pouring rain in the front yard and sunny in the back. So many things happen at once that the most common weather feature in downtown Portland is rainbows, which is what most of us would have voted for anyway.

Any batch of moisture drifting into this little valley doesn't know whether to pellet up, take a gut punch right down the gorge, or smack into a mountain. It's all confused. So mostly it just piddles itself out of sheer lack of imagination. The weathermen cross their fingers and count on that. The phrase here is a little different from most places. If you don't like the weather, wait six months.


56 comments:

  1. Sounds like you always have a topic of conversation with strangers. And, you are carrying boots because??

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    1. I don't have that many pictures of me in the rain. The light's not conducive I guess. So this one is of me on the way back from a Frog Egg Survey. You wear your boots down to the pond and switch to waders.

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  2. I don't mean to take anything away from Portland and its uniquity, but weathermen in NE PA are just as unlikelyt o be able to tell you what's going to happen meteorologically in any 24 hour period as they are out your way. It isn't science, really, no matter how hard they try to make it sound that way. Cold fronts and low pressure systems DO have their own minds, and they love to mess with ours.

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    1. It IS science but it's real complicated science. I like that there are so many things we don't know. Makes me hopeful.

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  3. Ha! Just a few hours north of you, we've got the same meteorologists puzzling and pondering the forecasts. I read them all, too. On Weather Underground, I read the "Scientific Forecast Discussion." Now THAT is interesting, when you read them say, "well, this model says this, and that models says that, so we'll just average 'em out." Which is one reason they are never right! :-)

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    1. I'm going to check that out. Thanks, DJan.

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  4. You are the Queen of metaphors and similes! Love it.

    Best line of many..."The other is they're alcoholics."

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    1. Boy, I'll take that crown any day. Thanks.

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  5. Oh, the poor hummingbirds. We had one stay through the winter with us (Atlanta) and we kept a heat lamp bulb on the feeder, but the poor thing died one cold night anyway. Better luck to yours.

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    1. Poor little feller stopped migrating too soon? Aww. Ours are supposed to be here.

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  6. I live in NH and work in Boston - weather changes several times on the way to work. I check 3 weather stations in the morning for both NH and MA weather - if they all agree, I get real nervous. Surprisingly (!), even when they "agree" they get it remarkably wrong. Yesterday they predicted 2-4 inches of snow, so when the MA Governor asked employers to let their people leave early, no one paid attention - after all, we'd just had 7 inches over the weekend - well, we now have another 6 or 7 (depending on where you live) and we all had several hour drives home - oh joy! I think about living somewhere where 15 is really cold, but I guess I'm too much a New Englander ... and if I left I wouldn't be able to depend on being able to complain about the weather!

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    1. Oh sure you would. Lots of people here are unhappy about six months of drizzle. But if you moved here, you wouldn't have to complain about the insects!

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  7. Hummingbirds spend the winter on Snoqualmie Pass up here in Washington. Doesn't make sense to me, but there you go. Also, your weather "dropped" to 15f? Poor baby. Not. I remember how happy I was when we got "up" to 0f! Grumble grumble, mrrfff, hmmpph.

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    1. But you have COATS. Right? You have coats?

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    2. Yes, I've taken to dressing like Mrs. Whatsit. Not that ANYONE I've mentioned that to has a clue to the reference. I also have goats, which is what I thought you wrote at first, apparently suggesting I bring them in at night and have three goat nights. They do make wonderful handwarmers at milking time. Such sweet girls.

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    3. Also too, you're just plain a much tougher broad than I.

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    4. If I recall correctly, Mrs. Whatsit and the other two ladies had "borrowed" their items of clothing from the neighbors...

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    5. I remember Mrs Whatsit, I love that book!

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  8. Who wouldn't opt for rainbows? Though some rain would be nice. Very, very nice.

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    1. I agree. When people complain about it, I want to say "it's WATER. Right out of the SKY. WATER! How great is that?"

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  9. Our weathermen here in sunny and hot Tucson, Arizona get to phone in the forecast pretty much all year. I could even be a weatherman in my spare time..."It's going to be sunny and hot today!" See what I mean?
    And I have no idea why the link to my blog in your left hand sidebar is stuck on a post from months ago.

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    1. I don't either. If you click on the blog title it goes to the right place but not if you click on the post. Maybe I'll try putting in your link again and see what happens. If it disappears altogether, remind me to do something about that!

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    2. Oh, and the rest of you, if you haven't seen Leslie's Drawing A Day, prepare to be enchanted. I bought one!

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    3. All right, I have it up fresh and new. See Leslie's art here!

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  10. In the past week we've had temperatures from plus 8 C to minus 18 C (make that minus 30 with the windchill), we've had rain and snow (fluffy) and snow (wet) and ice pellets and gorgeous blue skies with sunshine. We're in one of those "wait five minutes and the weather will change" places. I don't think I could take six months of grey and drizzle, although I would like the "never too hot or cold" bit really well ... must we really make choices like that?

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    1. Yes we must. Big secret here: the six months it's not raining are sunny and pleasant, every dang day.

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    2. Murr - shut the f-ck up! Don't tell them that! They'll want to move here and there are too damn many out-of-staters here as it is!! We only let you stay because you are so darn entertaining!

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  11. Those land masses cause all the trouble. You have the awesome Columbia River valley; we have the continental divide and the leftover moraines of the last ice age. Our weatherman says "Where squalls persist" to tell us we may have ten more inches of snow than he is forecasting. Sorta like, if the sidewalk is wet, it's raining.

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    1. I love the regional phrases. The things you don't hear everywhere. Here, it's "sun breaks." And hey. If it weren't for the land masses we'd have so much trouble breathing.

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  12. You have year round hummingbirds? Wow! Ours arrive in late May, just before the breeder mosquitoes start landing at the airport, and leave by the middle of September.

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    1. Hate when them breeder mosquitoes are so massive they go off the runway. Yes we do have them. Anna's hummingbirds. I can't believe they really make it when it gets unnaturally cold, because hummingbirds go into a state of near-death every night even in the summertime, but I'm happy to report that several of them gorged on my thawed-out feeder every day. Might have lost some, but Hannibal Nectar lives to see another day.

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  13. my meteorology professor used to say forecasting was like bowling on an alley that could tilt sideways, and it would tilt in the direction of any tiny error you made in your aim.

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  15. I don't care about any of it as long as I have a healthy bowel movement in the morning. Bring it on!

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  16. Last time I was in San Diego, one Monday the W-man announced, "there will be no weather this week."

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  17. I always thought it was wait a few minutes and things could change. My dad says Oregon is the only state he has ever heard use the term sun breaks in their weather reports.

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  18. My son once went to visit Michigan Tech University in Houghton, Michigan. He went in early June and looked at me funny when I told him he had better take his winter jacket. He called me the first night to say it was 35F. I mentioned that MTU and places like it didn't get snow days. Snow was a way of life up there. You might tunnel through it, but classes would not be cancelled. He opted not to apply.

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  19. When I lived in Eastern Washington, I travelled with a shovel, a bag of kitty litter (in case I slid off the road) a tarp (in case I had to chain up), a sleeping bag and some granola bars.

    Now that I'm on the wet side of the mountain, I travel with rubber boots and rain gear. And granola bars. Always good to have something to feed the giant slugs. They aren't getting my nipples, that's for dang sure.

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    1. They probably aren't getting mine, either, but I will say they're getting easier for them to reach.

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  20. One cold snap up north, I noticed several eagles hanging upside-down from their branches over the creek, where they usually sheltered from the wind. I don't know how the little ones, chickadees and hummingbirds stand it.

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    1. Wow. I've heard hummingbirds are sometimes found upside down on their perches. I didn't know it could happen to eagles. Handy, that easy-lock talon system.

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  21. Come down to Adelaide, we only have one kind of weather here at the moment. Hot. I mean HOT. 43.4*C today, that's 110 in your vernacular. You can leave the rubber boots and raincoats home.

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    1. Nope. Nope nope nope nope. We are moistened people, but we are thermally delicate.

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  22. Mt.Hood is a great weather indicator. If you can see Mt. Hood from Portland, it's going to rain. If you can't see Mt. Hood from Portland, it's raining. People remark to one another - "Hey, the mountain is out today!"

    People who ski have snow gear. The rest of us have layers. I know men who wear wool shawls under the raincoat on those frosty days.

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    1. Oh yeah, "the mountain is out." That's another thing we say. Reminds me of when Mt. St. Helens was kicking up. People would say, "what's the mountain doing today?"

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  23. Oops, sorry about that cold front. Our bad. But thanks for giving us some belly laughs in return!

    At least now I know why I have no ass to speak of - mine must've calved off about 40 years ago. And I sympathize with your bizarro weather - we have the same thing here. A couple of days ago I started off to the airport on dry pavement. Only a few miles from home I drove into a snowstorm and ended up plowing through 5 or 6 inches, trying to guesstimate where the lines were on a completely snow-covered 8-lane highway. Made it to the airport, dropped off my passenger, and battled my way home - only to find the f*#@ing snow stopped about a mile away from our place and the roads were still clear there.

    But I can always find something to complain about. In the summer, it's "I hate this rain. At least when it snows you don't get wet." Then winter comes, and I'm whining, "I hate this snow. At least when it rains you don't have to shovel it..."

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    1. What? You've never had shovelable rain? We got over an inch in an hour while we were slurping away in a brewpub and by the time we climbed down from our elevated booth it was up to our ankles in there. They were sweeping it up like Mickey Mouse.

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  24. Here in Maine we have had a foot of snow on the ground with temps in the lower teens. Now we are having a warming spell with high temps just at freezing. We have an ice storm forecast for the next two days - a drizzling rain with temps below freezing. We are sure to loose our electricity with down trees taking out power lines, turning our world into an age.
    But we live in Maine. We have been here before.
    the Ol'Buzzard

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    1. We here at Murrmurrs loves us some Maine. Let me be the first to wish you a happy mud season. That's three months off so I'm pretty sure I've scooped everyone.

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  25. When the thermometer hovers in the single digits, Fahrenheit, I long for my gray, drizzly days in the PNW.

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