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Wednesday, December 28, 2005


After the surprise snowstorm last Sunday, the weather changed and turned "normal". Normal that is for Portland in December. This means mostly cloudy with rain here and there. And the temps warmed right back up! By the end of the week we were seeing highs in the mid-50s! On Christmas Eve it even got into the low 60's and sunny, nice enough to take a celebratory ride up to Mount Tabor. Highs around 50 is fairly normal for the dead of winter in Portland, which is why I laugh when I talk to people on the phone and they say "Portland? Gosh, it must be freezing up there!"

For the first couple days people were relieved that the temperature broke out of the "around freezing" range that it was locked into before the snow. But sure enough the complaining started. And complaining about the weather in Portland is quite a sport. The rain is something to get used to. Not everyone does. The worst complaining is probably done by the newbies, who think that the warnings about "the rain" were just a put on to discourage the influx of Californians. And it's not only the Californians that complain--expatriates of areas with much more severe winters are taken aback by the dampness and lack of sunlight (both in duration of day and amount of sun in a day) and will let us know.

But this my friends is the reality of Portland winter. Statistics prove that we get less annual rainfall than most cities in the midwest or northeast, but since our rain is concentrated in a six month period, it doesn't feel that way. It doesn't pour 24-7 November-April, but rain off-and-on during this period. It's due to the influence of the Pacific, pushing moisture in. Because of this type of weather pattern, it doesn't get as cold as a city of our latitude should (we lie at a comparable latitude to Minneapolis and Montreal), but since it doesn't it's always damp it leads to the moldy nature of things. And the complaining rages.

Is it really different anywhere, though? When I lived in Connecticut, we would bitch about the cold winter, waiting for summer. When the oppressive summer heat and humidity was on, we wished for it to get cool again. No one is happy with the season they're in. Even in parts of California! After spending a summer in San Francisco, I can see where the quote (mis-attributed to Mark Twain) came from: "The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco."

What can you do?
1) Move to a climate that is more attune to your needs
2) Move to a place that has a "perfect" climate like Santa Barbara, California (daytime high all-year: 70) but then realize that rent is too expensive because everyone wants to live there because of the perfect climate, and then settle for a cheaper town on the outskirts of Santa Barbara where the hillside might fall down and kill you every five years or so
3) Try to appreciate every season in turn

I'm opting for number 3 right now. I realize that it's going to rain in the winter, skies will be cloudy, and the sun will set before 5pm. But I am going to appreciate the good aspects, like the mild temperatures that will allow me to bike around, the rain that will keep the grass green, the plants that grow here in the winter, the evergreen forests with soggy ferns underneath, the seasonal creeks and lakes now filled with water, the desire to get more projects done, and the coffee that will keep me going. When spring hits I'll appreciate the new plants and blooming trees, and more sun. When summer hits I'll appreciate the long, warm, dry, sunny days that will allow me to ride around and around and around. When we get into fall, I'll appreciate the leaves changing color and the return of the rain. And then winter will be here again.

So if I seem to tune out when you start to complain about the weather, now you know why.


  1. misattributed to Mark Twain?! Crazy! Well then, who DID say it, perfesser?

  2. I was going to ask the same question. Not Mark? then who?


  3. No one is really sure.

    From the San Francisco Chronicle:
    "The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco,'' a saying that is almost a San Francisco cliche, turns out to be an invention of unknown origin, the coolest thing Mark Twain never said.


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