Why Is Seattle So Obsessed with Sunset Time?
What does the founder of the Seattle Weather Blog—and its corresponding 75,000-follower Twitter account—tweet about on a dreary and meteorologically uneventful evening in late January? “The sun won’t set before 5pm again in Seattle until November.”
Justin Shaw made that off-the-cuff observation on a dark downtown bus ride pre-pandemic while rubbing puffy coats with other commuters who hadn’t seen the light of day since they left for work that morning.
It struck a nerve—one that Seattleites typically reserve for Shaw’s snowflake-laden communiqués. His followers brooded (“I will just have to endure the hellacious bright times until November comes again” —@williamslauram). They celebrated (“THANK FUCKING GOD” —@mkrainacker). They snarked (“What sun?” —@WillSeattle). And they’ve sounded off like clockwork every tweet since, whether Shaw’s counting down the days till daylight saving time springs eventide forward or bidding farewell to the final 8pm sunset.
Sunset time is so scheduled, so predictable, that Google can tell you precisely what time the sun will set today, tomorrow, and 100 years from now. So why is it as delighting and polarizing as a weather event that grinds the city to a halt and, despite recurring Snowpocalypses, still shocks us?
Seattle’s Big Dark, that monthslong period when early sunsets and cloud-dimmed skies collide, brings with it plenty of complaints about seasonal affective disorder. It provides ample material for the Seattle Freeze theory—nobody’s having an idle chat with their neighbor when it’s pitch-black and sleeting. But it’s also a strange source of pride, especially for territorial locals and transplants hoping to be seen as Real Seattleites. Even Redmond-born Shaw has fielded libelous accusations of being a California expat.
Still, few of us pray for darkness all year long. “We’ll be cheering for sun and warmth and daylight on a dreary day in December,” Shaw says, and then when more daylight inevitably arrives, we miss our doom and gloom. “It’s such a wishy-washy relationship.”
Unappreciative though we may be at the time, it’s those contrasts that make Seattle special. The same tilt of the earth that gives our city its signature mood also gives us the glorious, unending summer evenings we half-jokingly hide from outsiders. So, sure. We might look forward to 9pm sunsets and still call ourselves Seattleites. But we sure as hell aren’t afraid of the dark.