Field Notes

Welcome to the rainy season

Welcome to the rainy season
A puddle fills up after heavy rain in Vancouver, Wash. on Sunday afternoon.

It starts slowly.

It will be a beautiful end of  summer day, barely a cloud in the sky, the temperature hovering in the 70s. You will look into the endless blue above, feel the gentle breeze and wonder why anyone would live anywhere else.

Then there’s a cloud. And another cloud. And then a cloud that looks somewhat ominous; dark. Suddenly you notice that the blue that had been everywhere has been reduced to patches.

The single dark ominous cloud seems to have joined with other clouds and they are gray, heavy, almost engorged on the now-absent sun.

And you feel a drop. And another drop. Before you know it, you have gone from wondering why anyone would live anywhere else to wondering why anyone stays.

Welcome to autumn in Portland. Or, as some call it, the rainy season.

Worry not. It only lasts nine months.

I knew that things had changed Sunday with two emails: one from Tualatin Valley Fire and Rescue announcing that the summer’s burn ban had been lifted; after all, pretty soon the thought of anything outside being dry enough to burn will be enough to get you committed.

The second was an email from one of the forecasters where I work announcing that fall would begin at 1:44PM.

“We’ll be kicking off the season with our first big storm,” she wrote. “It’s all about rain and wind with this system.”

Of course, it is.

Forecasters in Portland seem to have as many words and phrases for the rain as Eskimos apocryphally have for snow. Rain. Showers. Scattered showers. Thunderstorms. Drizzle. Light drizzle. Sprinkles. And, my favorite, filtered sunshine.

It’s often so wet in Portland that seagulls fly inland from the Columbia and Willamette Rivers only to find themselves disappointed. I don’t get it, the gulls say, if it’s this wet there really should be fish everywhere.

And while the puddles in my backyard have been deep enough to drown anyone under 5’2” (I just make it), the only salmon ever seen there has been on the grill.

But I do think that the gulls have a point.

The joy of the start of the rainy season is it means that the start of the snowy season can’t be that far away.

And while the snowy season will bring lots of snow to the several large mountains in the area that tower above 10,000 feet, it will bring lots of hyperbole to those of us who live in the valley.

Snowpacalypse Now! Snow Country for Old Men. Flakefest 2013. Snomageddon!

Those are just a couple of the ways that residents of Portland and the surrounding area will know it’s really not going to be all that bad outside.

Through the fault of no one in particular, weather forecasters across the city will predict doom and gloom on and off most of the winter. I suspect, more often than not, the result will be a lot more gloom than doom.

It’s hard to be mad at them though last winter, one woman wrote saying she thought it was typical that a man would promise seven inches only to deliver two.

It’s worth noting that there doesn’t seem to be any truth to the rumor that the weather guys are all paid off by Les Schwab or one of the other tire shops looking to clear their inventory of chains and snow tires.

And given the fact that Portland, despite being in the shadow of those several mountains more than 10,000 feet tall, is unable to deal with snow on any sort of logical level, it’s important to let people know what might happen.

At the supermarket the day before the last “storm” of last year people were lined up at checkout with carts full of supplies as if they weren’t going to be able to get out of their house for weeks once the storm set in.

Even under the worst-case scenario, it wasn’t going to be that bad.

But living in Portland with snow in the forecast is like living in a city filled with Jewish grandmothers: You never know… better safe than sorry.

The thing that you have to remember about rain in Portland can be summed up by looking at how Groundhog Day is celebrated here.

While the rest of the country uses it as a barometer indicating whether or not it will be an early Spring, in Portland, it’s different.

In Portland, they take out the groundhog and if the little guy doesn’t drown, it means five more months of rain.

If he does drown, it also means five more months of rain.

And you have to buy a new groundhog.