Seattle’s Love-Hate Relationship with July

Our dysfunctional relationship with the finest month of the year.

By Kathryn Robinson June 24, 2011 Published in the July 2011 issue of Seattle Met

IF YOU’VE REPRESSED the memory, summer 2010 was a cool and cloudy slog between Memorial Day and Labor Day, bookends which themselves sucked. “No worries!” we assured ourselves bravely at our Memorial Day barbecues. “May is always freezing!”

“And…so is June!” we chirped as school gave way to summer vacation, only now a little perkier, knowing that the dependable turning point, July 5—the day after the fireworks fest Northwest children grow up assuming must be some sort of pagan farewell-to-winter rite—was just a few weeks away. Of course I didn’t know then that July 5 would see me dangerously close to a campfire at a Port Townsend campground, burrito-wrapped in two wool blankets.

As days passed and July ripened into Julember, I began to despair. Where July ’09 had melted record books with temperatures reaching 103 degrees, this one dawned daily under a thick marine layer that never meaningfully burned off. We walked around clammy and breathless, feeling plastic-wrapped. Day after ridiculous day the sun would halfheartedly roll in around 3pm—if at all—only to take off again earlier and earlier on its annual death march from summer to winter solstice.

This might have been no problem, except that July is no ordinary page in the Seattle calendar. July is an icon—our only dependable ration of warmth, sunshine, long lavish light, and blessed relief from the damp. It’s the month for which we do our time the rest of the year; the one month that goes even partway toward redeeming November. We sleep in our sheets, leave the house without sweaters, linger bare-toed at the beach till the sun finally drops at 10pm. At last, tops come off on our convertibles, our baseball stadiums, and that one secret beach on Lake Washington. July in Seattle doesn’t bring mere weather; it fills the air with splendor.

It even holds the driest day of the year, July 29, amid a week in which Seattle stuns weather geeks by being one of the most arid places in the country. Brides, the Bellevue Arts Festival, and my mother (who annually scheduled our Puget Sound beach vacation for that week) have always known this—sure as they know Seafair Sunday will bring clouds, the first day of school will be too hot for our kids’ back-to-school outfits, and February will throw down a little stretch of frigid sunshine.

So surely I wasn’t the only one who felt betrayed and abandoned by July 2010—an unreliable and contrarian bad boyfriend of a month, oblivious to our needs. September is the gallant gent who tries to compensate—but who wants old darkening September against the fresh and verdant seductions of July?

Here I should admit that my relationship with July has never been very functional: If it’s not fickle, it’s a control freak, enticing me to ditch work and chores and family obligations with its hottie charisma, then flooding me with guilt if I resist.

You know what I mean. In July we feel guilty if we ignore the laundry but guiltier if we do it; I’ve gone whole Julys without changing my sheets. The tyranny of a Seattle July is that we’re plagued with anxiety if we’re not spending every sun-drenched moment joyously rappelling down sheer mountain faces or circumnavigating Blake Island in a kayak. Its very perfection demands that we cram every unmet outdoor longing of the year into its 744 balmy hours.

Until last year. Perhaps I should be grateful. Instead I find myself mordantly obsessed with this July’s forecast.

I don’t know what it’s doing outside as you’re reading this, but the weather as I’m writing it is, whaddya know, chilly and wet. You will recall that our whole spring was like that. And although it may seem petty to whine about a few La Nina shivers (aka COLDEST SPRING IN RECORDED HISTORY) in the face of 
a season when the weather in some parts of the country actually killed people, our disappointment has been real and dispiriting—and only heightens our expectation of a glorious summer.

Because seriously—haven’t we earned it? I called Cliff Mass, the UW atmospheric sciences professor and unofficial king of Northwest weather geeks, to see if our sense of being due actually holds up. Do periods of bad weather right themselves into periods of sunshine? Turns out he’s researched that very thinking for a book about the history of weather forecasting. “That idea—that there’s some sort of magical balancing act in the weather—is ancient and comes up across cultures,” he told me. “And there’s no truth to it.”

Which means that this July could again bring, sob, 100 percent chance of laundry.

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