Residents in soggy Seattle rebel against the sun

Reuters News
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Posted: Jul 09, 2015 1:40 PM

By Eric M. Johnson

SEATTLE (Reuters) - Seattle's mayor is losing sleep over the unusually hot, dry weather that is causing a run on air conditioners and fans in the famously rainy city.

Washington state's largest metropolis sweated through its hottest June on record, going fortnights without even a drizzle. Seattleites jokingly refer to the month of "Juneuary" for the wet and cold they usually endure before longer, dryer sunny days arrive in July, typically persisting into September.

This summer, however, they have shrugged off the rain gear and flannel and taken to drinking "iced" lattes. Many, including Mayor Ed Murray, find themselves oddly yearning for the cloud cover on which Rain City's identity was forged.

Murray said the heat has kept him up at night in his brick Tudor-style house, which he has nicknamed the "little Dutch oven."

"Obviously people in Seattle love a little more sun but also nothing is built for it," Murray said. "I miss my rain."

With an estimated 662,400 residents, the Emerald City, as the city is nicknamed, lies between the brackish Puget Sound and the Cascade Mountains which squeeze moisture out of east-bound fronts moving over the city.

It is so dry in the state that a wildfire is burning in a rainforest on the Olympic Peninsula and Governor Jay Inslee issued a statewide drought emergency in May as the snowpack in the mountains fell to historic lows.

Seattle-Tacoma International Airport received just 0.23 inches (0.58 cm) of rain for June, down from the normal 1.57 inches (3.98 cm).

To be sure, drought conditions are affecting cities down the U.S. West Coast, which is embroiled in a particularly fierce wildfire season that has prompted water-use and burn restrictions.

Seattle's public utility downgraded the water supply outlook from "good" to "fair" on Wednesday amid higher-than-usual water consumption and record-low stream flows into reservoirs, urging residents to limit plant-watering.

CRISIS PENDING?

Murray said the city had enough water and energy this year but was being pushed to the limit.

"A second year with such little snowpack would be a crisis," he said, referring to the affect on the broader region's cold, clear salmon rivers and bountiful farms and orchards.

While the current situation is "mega extreme in terms of our temperatures," it is unlikely that it is caused by human-induced global warming because the heat-wave is due to an unusual large-scale air pattern, University of Washington atmospheric sciences professor Clifford Mass said.

Relief is forecast heading into the weekend, with a chance of rain on Sunday and cooler temperatures in the week ahead, Mass said. But overall the summer will be warmer than normal as Seattle enters it driest period of the year.

Meanwhile, parched lawns have turned beige and the city opened cooling shelters. At local hardware stores, air conditioning units and fans have been flying off the shelves; one Lowes store sold 16 air-conditioning units in a matter of minutes after it opened.

"This is Sicily in Seattle, with nearly 16 hours of daylight," Seattle-born author Timothy Egan wrote in the New York Times on July 3.

Some people have embraced the dry skies and sun.

"Everybody is a bit nicer. People say 'Hi' to each other. It's not the hanging their head when they walk by each other," said Nicole Sullivan, a management consultant who has used the heat as an opportunity to take her paddle board on Shilshole Bay on balmy evenings.

"How do we re-market ourselves if we are not 'Rain City' or the 'Emerald City,'?" Mayor Murray deadpanned. "If we're not green anymore, what's going to be our new color?"

(Reporting by Eric M. Johnson in Seattle; Additional reporting by Alwyn Scott in Seattle; Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Alden Bentley)