Perceptions of Weather

Everyone is interested in weather at some point, but many (most?) gardeners are obsessed with it. I’m no exception. Since I began gardening seriously thirty years ago, I’ve had a max/min thermometer and a rain gauge and kept daily records. I also monitor a selection of weather-related internet sites.

I think I have a pretty good idea of what the weather has been like in any given season, but I notice that many people’s perceptions are quite inaccurate.  Many people equate cloudy with rainy, so after a number of cloudy days they complain about “all this rain we’ve been having,” even though there were only a few showers that didn’t amount to anything. Take this spring, for instance. Even I was sure that both May and June were abnormally cool and wet, but after adding up the rainfall amounts for those two months, I found that my rain gauge recorded only 18.5 mm. (0.73 in.) in May and 35 mm. (1.4 in.) in June. Comparing these numbers to the official averages, I see that May was just about normal (18.7 mm.) but June was somewhat above normal (21.7 mm). I suspect this applies to temperatures as well — May was more or less normal (despite perceptions), while June was undoubtedly cool.

This is why keeping weather records is such a good idea; records provide hard data against which to check one’s perceptions. (They are also useful in weather-related arguments). For example, I have entertained a notion that in recent years, springs and summers have been cooler than normal, and autumns warmer, as though the seasons have shifted in some weird way — possibly the result of climate change? It just so happens that one of my favourite local weather sites (VictoriaWeather.ca) put up a graph on their Facebook page today, showing temperatures for the past ten years collected at the University of Victoria. This data confirms my impression of recent cool summers, but not necessarily of warmer falls. (Fall, by the way, is often the best season of the year; the only problem with it is shorter days, but even those are a blessing for writers who are also gardeners — more time to write).

Another aspect of perception of weather is the matter of what is considered “good weather.” Here (as in so much else) I differ from most people, or at least those who express their opinions. Most people say they like sunny, hot, dry weather, the hotter the better. Just today I heard someone on Vancouver’s CBC Radio expressing envy for folks in the eastern U.S. who are experiencing temperatures of 38 C (100 F). Well, I’m perfectly happy with our current temperature of 15 C (60 F) here in Victoria, B.C., even though it’s well below normal and it looks like this will be a lousy summer for growing tomatoes. As the late Eleanor Perenyi said in her excellent essay “Partly Cloudy”:  “The majority of Americans crave a sunlit perfection, as if hell itself weren’t a warm, well lighted place.” I can attest that this holds true for Canadians as well.

As for rain, I know I’m almost alone when I declare that I love rain, especially in summer. Living and gardening in a temperate version of a Mediterranean climate where summer rain is relatively rare, I envy gardeners in places that are blessed with it during the growing season. My idea of gardening bliss is not having to drag hoses around, keep track of what days I’m allowed to water, and haul watering cans from pot to pot. This rather cool, damp spring and (so far) summer has been noteworthy in that I haven’t yet had to bring out the hose and sprinker, and my rain barrels are actually full of rainwater. But I see that the long range forecast is for warmer, sunnier days. Unless it becomes what I consider to be Too Hot (30 C (86 F) or more), I won’t grumble. Maybe there’s hope for a few tomatoes yet.

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