Sunday, November 17, 2019

Is Seattle Really the Gloomiest City in the U.S.?


The media is often full of negative and depressing news, and this week the Seattle Times did not disappoint, with an article suggesting that Seattle is the gloomiest city in the U.S.  And their cartoonist, David Horsey, followed up with more of the same.


But inquisitive Seattle residents might ask:  is this really true?  Is Seattle truly in the basement of gloom?

Perhaps not...so let's explore this issue, from both psychological and meteorological viewpoints.  Now, first--what is gloom?  As shown by the definition below, it can either refer to darkness, or more importantly, a state of melancholy or low spirits.


There is, in fact, a scientific literature on the distribution of gloom around the nation.  What does it say?

One example (here), providing a map of mental distress across the nation, suggests that Seattle is far from the worst, with parts of California and the torrid southeast U.S. being far sadder.  The paper talks describes the "gloom belt", and folks, we are not in it.


But being in high-tech Seattle, let's check the results of mining the twitter archive to judge regional mood (another peer-reviewed article), with higher numbers indicating more happy tweets.  Washington is one of the happier states! (Yes, Hawaii is the most happy, with Maine and Nevada right behind).


So clearly, there was something wrong with the gloom index used by the Seattle Times, which is only based on percent of cloud cover, hours of daylight, and days with precipitation (and put together by a website called Best Places).

Now there is a lot the gloomers at Best Places/Seattle Times missed.  For example, did you know that too MUCH sun is depressing?   It is called Summer Affective Disorder (SAD) or Summer Depressive Disorder.   Oppressive, ever-present sun.  High humidity.  Glare.  Sweat.  Biting insects.  In many places (SW U.S., India, SE U.S.), summer depression is a real problem.


Looking the summer heat index, which combines temperature and humidity, the SE and SW U.S. are just miserable during the summer. And it is well known that crime and disorder increase during very warm weather.

But we generally escape this affliction in the Northwest, with the more pleasant summers in the nation, particularly west of the Cascade crest.   So it makes sense that from late spring through early fall, Seattle residents are happier than many others around the nation.

The gloom analysts at Best Places and the Seattle Times also miss out that many people like rain.  In fact, there is a literature describing how rain can make people happier.  One theory is that rain is a source of white noise that is pleasant for the brain.  That is certainly true for me.  It is also an excuse to find a warm, cozy spot, to reflect, enjoy tea or coffee, or to read.  You don't feel guilty for not running around outside.  Life is good.

Other studies suggest after living in a place in constant sunshine, the brain adapts and takes no notice.  In contrast, here in the Northwest, when winter clouds part to give us a good shot of sun, our brains are flooded with neurotransmitters, providing a psychological high.

To give a pharmacological analogy.  If one takes pain killers for an extended period in time, they lose their effects.  In contrast, if you take one rarely, they give you quite a jolt when you take one.  The difference between living in San Diego or Seattle.

But there is more.   During Seattle winter, many of the trees and ferns are still green and vibrant, and our grass stays green, in stark contrast, to the brown, lifeless (depressing) vegetation over much of the U.S. (the picture below was taken on January 7th by Peter Stevens).

  



And on many a winter day, it is easily possible to get some sun with a short drive, into the mountains, past the Cascade crest, or to sunny Sequim.   Many Seattle residents know this.

I hope the Seattle Chamber of Commerce has a little "talk" with the gloommeisters \ at the Seattle Times.  Perhaps Jeff Bezos knew what he was doing when he build Amazon here in Seattle, as did so many other leading firms.  And yes, there is a movie I can recommend:

_____________________________
Announcement:  I will be teaching Atmospheric Sciences 101 during winter quarter

If anyone is interested, either a UW student or outside folks using the ACCESS program, I will be teaching this general introduction to weather in Kane Hall (210) at 12:30 PM.

24 comments:

  1. As someone who is allergic to sunlight and intolerant of heat, I fully support your position here! Sunny hot weather saps my will to live. Western Washington is pretty much the perfect place from my point of view.

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  2. Keep the publicity as it is; we don't need more population growth.

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  3. Fascinating.

    Just wondering: Are you at all interested in diverging somewhat to the Pacific Southwest for a change?

    https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2019/nov/17/what-could-i-have-done-the-scientist-who-predicted-the-bushfire-emergency-four-decades-ago?fbclid=IwAR2z0uC1RePUtpHqFd4CPVGVb7v0lY-6K-Q0RgtpHQRwHMaR-4rBwzaNSfI

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  4. I judge it by the ever-present ongoing need for depressed Seattle "progressives" to make themselves feel better by telling other people how to run their lives. I wish they'd just bite the bullet and understand that the climate bums them out for half the year, and then they have to spend another quarter of the year recovering.

    This reduces joy, a sense of humor, and self-worth, hence the need for affirmation. All of which is understandable, but might I suggest therapy rather than legislation?

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    1. Why is Hawaii so liberal? And the Bay Area? And Southern Cal?

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  5. My vote is for crescent city California, where the pestilence is mix of rain, fog, earthquake, tsunami and Seagulls.

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  6. Cliff, I like that people in Seattle keep doing most things in the rain. It's rarely a torrent or downpour, but a light rain only needing a rain jacket to keep on doing what you had planned. No need to stay inside all the time. Instead, stay in touch with the moisture dropping from the heavens.

    The rain clears the air for allergy sufferers and clouds benefit those who sunburn easily. A light rain, clouds and fog have their own kind of beauty during the day--like being in a black and white photo. At night, the low cloud cover is like a cocoon or blanket over everything. Thunder and lightning doesn't happen often. I like your analogy of "white noise" which is really true. It adds to the feeling of protection or an embrace provided by low clouds.

    Of course, there is always an outlet if you need a break by taking a February vacation to a warm bright location. It can be as simple as crossing to the eastern side of the state or investing in going to Hawaii.

    In the summer, clear skies allow viewing of the stars signaling the change of season. I actually miss rain in the summer, but take comfort in knowing it will return. I like experiencing this way of changing seasons especially with the contrast of our glorious summer weather. Someone described it as an "air-conditioned" summer and the long days are "to die for".

    As we know, nature has pleasure and beauty in its many forms and varieties. It can be a well kept secret that living life with a pleasant amount of rain can be so satisfying to some of us. Perhaps we should consider allowing the Seattle Times continue to feed the "gloomy" rumor so we can keep it for ourselves. It's a life-style and rhythm that I have grown to love.

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    1. From 16 years of residence, there are the three stages of Seattle living for a transplant.

      Year 1: "Oh the rain and fog gives it such a mystical air. I love it!"

      Years 2-4 (gradually): "Maybe I should get some of those full-spectrum lights people talk about. And damn, 40 degrees here sure seems colder than 40 degrees anywhere else."

      Year 5-7: "Rain again? This sucks."

      Year 8+: "Honey, did you book the tickets to Hawaii for the first week of March?"

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    2. Those comments sound mighty familiar to someone I once knew.

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    3. Try me at TBTop@protonmail.com and we'll see if we know each other.

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  7. Cliff,

    Have you read this?

    https://www.theatlantic.com/science/archive/2019/11/bipartisan-carbon-tax-columbia-study/601897/?utm_source=twitter&utm_medium=social&utm_campaign=share

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  8. I believe what I miss is a regular, orderly 4 seasons which I grew up with. Seattle has the rainy season (much longer) and the 'dry' season (shorter). 3 months of each season allows for little to no sadness about whatever's going on (unless a person has a seasonal affective disorder or depression or such).

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  9. I have been here 15 years and I hate the sunshine more then ever. I like it to be dark and gloomy and cold as much as possible. When it is raining or cloudy I am outside and doing stuff. The parks and trails are mostly empty. As soon as the sun comes out and it gets warmer I stay indoors as much as possible.That bright sun puts me in a bad mood as much as all these sun worshipers do. If you people like the sun so much move to California and stay there. I would live in a place like South East Alaska if I could since it is more cloudy and gloomy then here and much less sun. When the sun is out here in the summer I go to much cloudier and cooler places to get away from the sun.

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  10. For 'gloomy' read 'percent possible sunshine'. I grew up in central NY, famous for its cloud cover. Doctors send albinos to live there. Looking it up, for all of 2018 SYR had 80% coverage. I always thought Seattle was our only real competition but I can't find the statistic for SEA-TAC.

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  11. I don’t mind the cloud cover or rain as much as I dislike the short days in later fall and early winter. Add cloud cover to short days and with a indoor job it’s like you live in perpetual darkness.

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  12. I like plenty of sunshine but with frequent changes and not too much time between rainstorms, especially since I took up gardening. I still miss the warm, intense thunderstorms of the East. I suspect that most people, with a few exceptions, like weather rather similar to that of the place where they grew up.

    It's true though, the darkness of the November-to-February period sometimes feels oppressive, especially since I have to work 8 hours.

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    1. "I suspect that most people, with a few exceptions, like weather rather similar to that of the place where they grew up."

      Most people who move here from elsewhere (and that's most of the population) are surprised when the weather isn't like it was where they came from. Very little forethought given to what "climate" means and what one might expect from it.

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  13. Winter, Spring, Summer or Fall.....I love our weather.

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  14. Seattle area has two seasons: 1)gloomy, and 2) sorta gloomy.

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  15. I can comfortably bike (nearly) year-round here, compared to the Midwest where a good chunk of the year is either frigid and icy, or hot and humid (plus bugs - keep your mouth shut!). I'll take the gloom any day.

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  16. Can confirm: It's freakin' miserable in Houston in the summer, and a month or two flanking each side of summer. Sadly, cost will likely keep me from moving back to the Puget Sound area.

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  17. Ok, this post is either humor or Seattle boosterism run amok. Placeholder had it right for most of us who were neither born there nor generically predisposed to like the gloomy weather. The actual BestPlaces story makes it clear it is measuring cloud cover/light and not mood or other things that can also be considered “gloom.” Frankly, the report likely understates the PNW’s weather gloom as it goes only until Feb and not into June. It’s also bordering on insulting to those of us who loved the PNW and really tried to make it work (light therapy, vit D, diet, daily outdoor exercise, etc). I have never personally known as many suicides in my life as I did in my years in Seattle either. I came there for work and had a fantastic job but finally had to leave it for the mental health of 3 of 5 family members.

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  18. They have tragic pathologies of their own.

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