Monday, April 14, 2008

Awful weather

Here in Juneau, we have to set the "awful" bar on our weather gauge a bit higher than most places. Raining? Windy? Snowing? Cold? Some combination thereof? That's just weather. Torrential downpours? Hurricane-force blasts? Blizzards? That's just interesting weather. The top level on the terrible weather scale is reserved for deep-set grayness that smothers multiple days and even weeks, grayness so thick it seeps down the mountains and into the moods of everyone you meet, and rain that falls continuously for 48, 72, 96 hours. I am not talking about wimpy storms that drizzle for a bit and then retreat behind overcast skies. No, I am talking about water and slush and snain pounding the ground without pause for three days straight.

You know the scale has tipped when people start talking about the weather. People in Juneau don't talk about wet weather for the same reason people in Fairbanks don't say "sure is cold out" and people in Las Vegas don't say "how 'bout that sun today." You don't bother to mention the things that happen most of the time. But when a week goes by without even a break in the clouds, wet weather begins to nervously trickle into conversation. You also know awful has come when you start to see umbrellas around town and it isn't even tourist season. Locals in Juneau don't use umbrellas. It's a symbol of Southeast Alaskan pride, a mark of non-sissiness and grizzled acclimation. Umbrellas are a sure sign of distress, our last act of desperation before we fall to our knees and pray for forgiveness before the apocalypse annihilates us.

Today I went snowshoeing up the Mount Jumbo trail. I wasn't even all the excited about getting out of bed. But even though I am dialing back my bike time, I still recognize the importance of going outside on a regular basis - lest I start to grow mold. At about 1,000 feet the sleet turned to snow, and by 1,800 feet I had entered a canyon in the crush of a full-on, white-out, 50-mph-wind-gusting blizzard. I glanced nervously in the direction of the steep surrounding slopes I couldn't even see and reminded myself that blizzards weren't so bad, but avalanches were really scary. I turned around. As I stumbled away from the storm, I began to rethink my resolve to take it easy this month. "I probably don't even need a break from the bike," I thought. "I probably just need a break from Juneau." Unfortunately, the former is much easier to implement.

Tomorrow's (and Tuesday's, and Wednesday's) forecast calls for a high of 40 and rain. I don't care. I'm going to buy an umbrella.