10/17/2012 11:42 am ET Updated Dec 17, 2012

Secrets From the Sky


I live in Portland and this is a great time to be from the Pacific Northwest. The media has been paying a lot of compliments to my city and Seattle, too. A recent survey from Bloomberg/BusinessWeek rated both of us among the top 5 best cities to live in. We're gaining a reputation as places that value creative thinking, innovation, and sustainability. But it's a mistake to lump the two cities together.

Seattle has long considered itself to be more dynamic, sophisticated and impressive than Portland. We're viewed as the envious younger sibling who will always be less talented and lower achieving than the big brother. My contribution to this rivalry is a more elemental proposition: I say Portland has better rain. Our liquid precipitation is like a good friend. In Washington it's a menace.

The differences are stark and severe. What you need to understand is that raindrops in Seattle are heavy, angular, and often sharp-edged. This is caused by the complex microclimates swirling across the Puget Sound area. Temperature changes can be sudden and extreme, barometric pressure is all over the place, and sometimes it even feels like gravity is in flux. The place is a meteorology madhouse.

Rain in Seattle has been known to cause severe bruising on exposed flesh and can shred umbrellas like tissue paper. A prolonged downpour can inflict fatal injuries on stray dogs and cats but nobody ever hears about these incidents. They're methodically hushed up with payoffs from umbrella manufacturers and other weather-dependent interest groups.

In contrast, Portland raindrops are smooth and caress your skin gently. They tend to drift through the air at a relaxed pace rather than being flung violently toward the ground like their Seattle counterparts. For me, getting caught in an Oregon rain shower is like being massaged by a cloud.

Our relationship with airborne water is cordial and non-confrontational. It's like the old slogan that used to appear on bottles of 7-Up: "You like it. It likes you." An unexpected squall in Oregon will make a dusty car clean again. In Seattle it might strip off the paint and crack the windshield.

I grew up near San Francisco and still have friends in that area. When they visit here and ask for my opinion about the weather I tell them, "Rain is simply Oregon's way of letting you know it's time to wrap up the vacation and head back to California."

The Golden State does have experience with extremely wet winters and they usually cite a climate condition known as "El Nino." What most people don't know is that El Nino is Spanish for "The Little Oregonian."

Yes, here in webfoot land we are comfortable in our own rain, and making up tall tales about it goes with the territory. Oh, and that reminds me of one more historical footnote: Oregon was the only state admitted to the Union pre-moistened.