From Drought To Drenched

Here comes the rain again. What? You thought it always rained in Western Washington? Nope. The Puget Sound area can be one of the driest in the country in August, and not much wetter in late July and early September. Hiding downwind of the Olympic Mountains means Whidbey can be even drier. Even the slightly wetter, but official, station in Seattle set a record this year. In the five months from May through September, Seattle only caught about two inches of rain. That’s less than some places get in a downburst, and much less than tropical regions get from their storms. No wonder island lawns were brown going to grey.

 

Forty years ago, getting people to move to the Seattle area took some convincing. Rumor was that it rained every day, the grey didn’t go away, and the Sun only mades rare appearances. The islands felt even more remote, and the islanders liked it. Off-islanders didn’t know what happened on the islands, and that was a good thing.

Then, Microsoft pulled in thousands of employees, made many millionaires, then billionaires, and a permanent magnet attracted more companies and people. Boeing salaries dominated before that, but that wasn’t mansion money, this was. Word started getting out.

At the same time, Starbucks decided to switch from selling coffee, tea, and spices in one small shop in Pike Place Market. As they expanded, people figured Seattle at least had good coffee, and a rationalization of how locals survived the winter.

Now, Amazon amplified the existing images of wealth and a book-lovers’ town. Jobs, caffeine, and literature? Sure!

REI anchored the reality of locals playing outside, regardless of the weather. A popular concept: there’s no such thing as bad weather, just the wrong clothes.

Flight

Tourism had always been a major industry, but those combined companies fueled a broader scope of activities. Come here to play.

And then the cruise ship industry decided sailing tourists up to Alaska was highly profitable.

All of those firms and influences filled their brochures with bright, sunny pictures that negated the image of drizzle and dreary. And, they didn’t have to cheat, much. Find a clear, sunny day, especially one with fresh white snow in the mountains and watch the photographers flock to vantage points, hop into helicopters, and sail out to look back on skyline panoramas.

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Reputations can be fragile, but they can also linger. The region continues to be known for rain, but the reality is becoming better known.

Tom Trimbath-DSC_7922

As for Whidbey, that’s all true as well. Few knew about the islands, even one as convenient as Whidbey. It was a refuge for retirees, artists, and a few commuters. Now, Langley and Coupeville are international destinations that sell art instead of housing artists. The artists are around, but they’re more likely to live closer to the farmers; farmers who have gone from quietly tending crops to being labeled as artisans by localvores. Don’t tell the cattle that. They may expect better feed, and maybe massages. Commuters are glad for bigger ferries, but some workers are skipping the commute and letting the electrons travel instead. High speed internet (1Gig – 10Gig in techie talk, aka The Big GiG) means it can be easier, quicker, and cheaper to work from home, a library, a coffeeshop, or a coworks on the island, rather than diving into the big city.

Just as Seattle has changed, Whidbey is changing, too; but in its own quieter way.

The weather doesn’t notice. It changes as it will. We just passed through five months of essentially drought without making the news. It’s October. The rains are back, almost as if the weather did have a calendar. There is one noisy consequence of the change. Those grey lawns are greening again. After months, or at least weeks, of rest the lawn mowers are getting busy again.

November Dune

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