Cool, rainy springs are a time-honored tradition around the Puget Sound region, and so are the weather-related complaints, apparently.
University of Washington Research Meteorologist Mark Albright found this fascinating article from the Puget Sound Courier that is dated May 31, 1855. (Big thanks for him for retyping it.)
It's an opinion piece from John Tompkins called "The Season" but could have doubled as an 1800s equivalent of a weather blog. (I need to find out if he is a distant relative of mine.)
Tompkins details the "cold, wet disagreeable weather and a universal spirit of discontent" that those in the Washington Territory faced (remember, Washington wasn't a state until 1889) in April after being treated to a "summer-like" March. Amazingly, it sounds an awful lot like what is frequently said today, only without the 19th century English. (Want proof? Check out some of the reader comments from this weather blog article bemoaning the spring of 2011.)
Tomkins goes on to basically state: "what did you expect?" -- after an apparently tame winter, that a cold, rainy spring was due to balance it out. He then boldly predicts that since nice weather had finally come by the end of May, that the rest of summer will feature an unstoppable streak of pleasant weather (for months!)
And then Tomkins defends his home turf, echoing a common rebuttal today that surely, those who have come to the Northwest from other parts of the union have it better here than what they experienced back home. (I mean, how can you argue that weeks of cloudy and 50 degrees is worse than the South's "sluggish vapors arising from your extensive swampy lands, impregnating the entire atmosphere with contagious diseases"?)
Without further ado, here is Tomkins' article:
Throughout the almost entire month of March last, the people everywhere in the Territory, were rejoicing at the beautiful summer-like weather we were then blessed with. 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. Upon every hand the exclamation was heard: "What glorious weather we are having now!" "What a magnificent climate Washington Territory has."
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 (but thank Heaven, they are "like angels' visits, few and far between"), profess to be so thoroughly disgusted with the weather---may it not be disappointed hopes---that they threaten to leave the Territory altogether. Now, let us take a calm, unprejudiced and dispassionate view of this matter, and see if we can't arrive at a little more sensible conclusion, and drive far from us, at the same time, this miserable spirit of constant repining at the weather. We will look at the thing, if you please, in a worldly and comparative light. All we presume, that have lived here any length of time, will readily acknowledge that the months of April and May of this year have been unusually cold and wet, and that the Winter months of the same, were unusually mild and open. Well then, 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, for this is a delightfully pleasant day---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? Certainly we may, and I confidently predict too, that there will scarcely be an interruption, for a day even, for the next four or five months, to the delightful weather, of which today we are enjoying a foretaste, and that not a word of complaint relative to the weather, will by a single reasonable person of the thousands who reside in the Territory. Mark the prediction, kind reader, and see if it does not prove true.
And now, a word or two in comparison. Men from New England, let me ask you a few questions. You have "growled" a good deal at the weather this Spring, have you not? Well, yes, we have. Had you "good and sufficient cause" to be so, with the facts still "fresh in your memory," that but 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?" Men from Illinois and Indiana, what legitimate grounds for complaint against this climate, have you? Your memories are surely not so very poor, that can have forgotten the everlasting "shakes and fevers" with which you were then afflicted, and which made your very life, a burden to you? Nor can you be blind to the fact that you are perfectly free from them here. Then why do you rail so fiercely against this climate?
Men from the South, the "sunny South!" A word with you, if you please, for you are quite as inconsistent as the rest of them, and no freer from blame. Has not the truth many times occurred to your minds, whilst cursing the long continued cold and wet weather, to which we have this Spring been subjected, 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.
Men from everywhere! Are there not many things connected with this Territory and its climate which will favorably compare with any portion of the world in which it has been your lot to tarry? Yes! Well then, let us have no more of your foolish and wicked repinings at the season.
Honest John Tompkins
Steilacoom May 30th 1855
Now before you think your great-great grandfather walked to the store barefoot in snow-covered puddles both ways up the Counterbalance in spring back then (which he didn't because this was barely after Seattle was founded), Albright did some further research of the time.
Back then, weather records were kept at Ft. Steilacoom, which is roughly half way between the Sea-Tac Airport of today and Olympia. It turns out, the average temperature from April and May in 1855 was 51.4 degrees. Albright found that averaging Seattle and Olympia together in the "missing spring" of 2011 came out to... 48.0 degrees! (Take that, Great-great-grandpa!)
In fact, Albright found the coldest April in Steilacoom over the 19 years between 1850 and 1868 was 45.2 in 1859 -- still warmer than the Seattle/Olympia average of 44.6 in 2011. (Come to think of it, there probably were people walking up the Counterbalance in snow at times last April.)
As for Tompkins' prediction that the summer of 1855 would be perfect with no cloudy days? Conspiracy theorists will smirk that while the summer's temperatures ended up about on par with average, the rainfall data is conspicuously missing from that time (See page 21) -- only noted in the weather records as "doubtful."
Whether it could be they reported zero rain for several months or whether it was a wet summer and numbers were removed to cover for "Honest" Tompkins, we'll never know. (Fort Vancouver in Washington did report 2.35" of rain in June, and July's data is also missing, but it did report a bonafide 0.00" of rain for August.)
But knowing what we still know today, no matter what the summer actually had in store, there were probably a few people unhappy about it and threatening to check out sunnier climates of the California gold rush.