May 02, 2012

Pioneer Weather Complaints

Some things never change.

One can not be considered a Northwesterner if you don't grouse about our endless cool, showery weather during Spring.  And it turns out that our pioneer ancestors---more than 150 years ago--were doing the same thing.

Let's go back to 1855 and the town of Steilacoom on Puget Sound's waters.  In a hard-hitting commentary in the Puget Sound Courier published at the end of May,  Honest John Tompkins chastised his fellow citizens for their "growling" about the weather.

He noted that Spring 1855 started out well:

"Throughout the almost entire month of March last, the people everywhere in the Territory, were rejoicing at the beautiful summer-like weather ... Every one seemed to be perfectly happy and contented, and there was not a countenance to be met with between the Columbia River and the Straits of Fuca, that was not the index of a joyous heart."

But then the weather shifted:

"Well, March went out, April came in, and with it, cold, wet, disagreeable weather, and a universal spirit of discontent, and a disposition to "growl""

"Throughout the entire month, and even up to this, the last day of May, it has been precisely the same, and some amongst us profess to be so thoroughly disgusted with the weather .... that they threaten to leave the Territory altogether."

Well, I have heard that one before....people threatening to move to California or some other warmer clime! 

By the end of May the weather had improved and Honest John made the false claim I have heard so often....the idea of balance...if the weather is bad for a while, it will surely be good later (and vice versa).  That some kind of omnipotent weather god is ensuring that the yin and yang of weather will be in rough equilibrium.   Sounds profound and true.  It isn't.  And I must admit I have heard some TV weathercaster types saying the same kind of thing.

"Is it not fair to presume or reasonable to expect, that there will be a large number of wet disagreeable days in the Spring, if there be but few in the Winter, the season in which it was natural to expect them? Most assuredly. And again, now that really fine weather has broke upon us---may we not reasonably anticipate, for a series of months, the same clear and bracing atmosphere, the same un-cloudy days, and deliciously cool nights for which the summers of Washington Territory are so justly and widely celebrated?"

Then Honest John takes on God's work in putting the complainers in their place.  The kind of work I try to model in my blog.

"Men from New England... You have "growled" a good deal at the weather this Spring, have you not?  ... a few short years since, among the bleak hills of your native States, you shivered beneath the fierce Northern blasts that swept from their summits, for five long winter months in each, and then that for three more you were almost constantly subjected to those damp, unwholesome, and consumptive-engendering fogs which are driven by the raw East winds, from "Newfoundland's Banks" into every "nook and corner of the Northeastern section?" 

I wish I could write like that.  "Damp, unwholesome, consumptive-engendering fogs"!!

And then he took out the heavy guns for those from the warm, tropical southeast:

"Men from the "sunny South!"...  for you are ... no freer from blame. Has not the truth many times occurred to your minds ... that the enervating influence upon both mind and body of your own tropical climate, and the sluggish vapors arising from your extensive swampy lands, impregnating the entire atmosphere with contagious diseases, are more to be feared and deprecated, than the rains and comparatively cold weather of Washington Territory"
Early Steilacoom
 He ends his reproach to complainers by noting:

"let us have no more of your foolish and wicked repinings at the season." 

Wise words for all of you to remember.

But some of you insist on complaining.  Surely, the spring of 2011 was worse than any of ancient memory.   Fine, let's check the numbers, with the assistance of Mark Albright, past State Climatologist.

The average temperature in 1855 for April/May was 51.6 F at Steilacoom which lies between SeaTac and Olympia. The April/May 2011 mean temperature averaged over SeaTac/Olympia was 48.0 F, considerably cooler than Steilacoom experienced 157 years ago in 1855. The coldest April at Steilacoom over the 19 years between 1850 and 1868 was 45.2 F in 1859. This is warmer than the 44.6 F recorded in April 2011 at SeaTac/Olympia.  ( global warming skeptic comments!)

So complainers among you take heart...last spring's cool/dampness was far worse than the weather that unsettled our tough, stout pioneer ancestors.  

This spring is a pussycat in comparison.


  1. Perspective, perspective, perspective.

    Spring 2011 is now the "Cold Standard" for this part of the world.

  2. How fun! Thanks for the blast from the past. Enjoyed the old fashioned language and agreed with the sentiments. Cliff, I think you SHOULD try this literary style once in awhile.

  3. We have had 3 sunny weekends followed by one dry one so far. I'd say we're doing very well this year for "Spring".

  4. Cliff: Ole Honest John subscribed to the miasma theory of disease, "sluggish vapors arising from your extensive swampy lands, impregnating the entire atmosphere with contagious diseases,..." Soon enough Pasteur would set things straight with the germ theory of disease.

  5. Even on the sunny days, it clouds up in the evening. I got a telescope about two months ago and I've been waiting for a chance to try it out, practice using the German equatorial mount, etc. No matter how promising the day, by the time it's dark, it's cloudy.

    When visible light astronomers lead particularly wicked lives, they get reincarnated to live in the Pacific Northwest.

  6. I don't understand this sentiment: Here is a list of things I don't like about the weather where you come from, therefore you have no place to dislike our weather. There are at least two logical fallacies there, so now I have something else to complain about wrt the weather here: it apparently makes people senseless.

  7. Cliff, I'd like to hear your take on Svensmark's paper and theory on Cosmic Rays fro Supernovae as the primary driver of Earth's climate. It seems far more plausible and empirically backed than CAGW which has produced so little evidence. For example, of late, clearly increasing CO2 levels, but not accompanied by rising temperatures.

    And what say you to the billions pumped in to random and very tenuous claims in other areas of science that purport to back CAGW. Shouldn't we have some sort of filter on the billions in wasted grant dollars given the state of our economy?

  8. As far as daily maximums at SeaTac, April was actually slightly WARMER than average. There is no question -- NONE -- that we are having a decent spring so far around here.

  9. No matter how wet our winter's get, it's still better than a New England winter! I try to remember sloshing through the half frozen slush puddles and freezing toes at the bus stop in Boston when I'm tempted to complain about our rain.

  10. I for one am one of the complainers who have had it with the weather here and do intend to move to the desert. If I wanted Alaska weather, I'd live there. I've lived here 16 years and the weather, especially the spring, has changed---for the worse. Thanks China for your air pollution and for making me have to relocate.

  11. Thanks Cliff for the historical perspective. The weather in 2011 finally convinced me to move from Seattle (where I grew up) to San Francisco (where I was born). I was walking to work during Spring 2011 during hail storms and too many days of rain. The insights from your blog and book helped me figure out the best place in SF to live to minimize the fog -- the ridge between Noe Valley and Castro. It's the "fog shadow" of Twin Peaks, and the fog seems to follow the path of least resistance north and south while avoiding the ridge.

    Thank you for your insightful posts! I wish there was a weather blogger as skilled in SF as you.

  12. This is great! I run a farm on Whidbey Island and have spent plenty of time over the years reading historic writings on the pioneers here. I once read a letter of an early Whidbey pioneer who was excited that he was expecting to receive seeds of melons, tomatoes and okra (he had come from the south!) and was sure they would do well in the bounteous Whidby Isle. I laughed my ass off!

  13. @Fixed Carbon

    At which point Ole Honest John would switch and say "sluggish vapors arising from your extensive swampy lands, impregnating the entire atmosphere with malaria-carrying mosquito's"

  14. The Lewis & Clark journals are full of "growling" about NW weather during the winter of 1805-1806 at Fort Clatsop.

    My parents moved to Ellensburg about ten years ago, and my dad noticed how the local paper NEVER publishes information about wind speeds. He jokes about how the local Chamber of Commerce must keep bribing them.

    Thanks for another great post!

  15. The same could be said of 18th century earthquakes, "History of New Jersey, Samuel Smith, 1765: page 419: 1726, "November a small earthquake was felt, it began between the hours of ten and eleven at night.: page 427: 1737, The 7th of December, this year at night, was a large shock of an earthquake, accompanied with a remarkable rumbling noise; people wakened in their beds, the doors flew open, bricks fell from chimneys; the consternation was serious, but happily no great damage ensued. : page 436: 1755, The 18th of November, at four o'clock in the morning, was a considerable shock of an earthquake that lasted about two minutes...It did not begin with so much of a rumbling noise as that in 1737, but was thought not to fall short in the concussion. : page 438, 1763, The 30th of October, between four and five in the afternoon, was a very considerable shock of an earthquake; which directed its course eastward."

    It's difficult to find seasonal weather history / disease focii—what swept through Missouri in September & October, 1896? 1837 Darke Co., Ohio?

  16. @Fetlock -- the Ellensburg Chamber of Commerce refers to our winds as "air-conditioning breezes"! ;0)


Please make sure your comments are civil. Name calling and personal attacks are not appropriate.

A Potent Atmospheric River Will Bring Heavy Rain and Some Flooding to the Northwest

If some folks thought that a strong El Nino would protect the region from heavy rain before the new year, they were mistaken. A substantial ...