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Seattle Rain Flood*
Flooding follows record rain
By Patrick McMahon, USA TODAY
SEATTLE It was the kind of rain the Rain City had never seen. A daylong deluge on Monday demolished rainfall records, flooded streets and inundated cars. While Seattle began drying out Tuesday, residents of smaller towns elsewhere in Washington evacuated neighborhoods and anxiously waited for flooding rivers to crest.
Seattle received 5.02 inches Monday. It was the most rainfall in a 24-hour period since Seattle began keeping records in 1891. The deluge beat the previous one-day record 3.41 inches on Nov. 20, 1959 by almost 50%. (Related item:Seattle's forecast)
The Puget Sound region is known for its rainy weather but generally a gentler variety.
"That kind of heavy saturating rain for 36 hours straight is an unusual phenomenon here," historian Walt Crowley says. "We're used to continuous moist gloom as opposed to a tropical downpour."
The rain was far from finished north of Seattle on Tuesday. Mountain streams and rivers continued to threaten small towns and cities. Residents were stranded in foothill communities, schools were closed and shelters opened.
In Mount Vernon, 55 miles north of Seattle, residents were building a sandbag wall 10 feet wide, 3 feet high and a half-mile long to protect the downtown business area that adjoins the rising Skagit River.
"It's a mighty struggle," Mount Vernon Mayor Skye Richendrfer says. "It's been like a roller-coaster ride. I am watching the Skagit River from my window, and it continues to rise."
Seattle's rainy reputation has more to do with days-long stretches of gray clouds than actual precipitation. The city's average annual rainfall is 37.07 inches, less than Atlanta (50.20) or New York (49.69), according to the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration.
Rain here often comes in small doses spread over many days. During December and January, sunny days occur about 50% of the time in New York and Chicago, compared with 15% in Seattle.
In the record-setting winter of 1999, it rained 48 of 53 days from late January to early March.
David Avery, a psychiatrist at the University of Washington, says lack of sunlight is a bigger factor than rain in winter depression, which strikes some people here.
Symptoms of the malady, also called seasonal affected disorder, known in shorthand here as SAD, include fatigue, weight gain and irritability.
October is normally a dry month in Seattle. But rains have been heavy this month after the driest summer since 1885.
Rainfall in June, July and August totaled less than 1 inch.
"This was the summer of summers. This was one of the nicest summers ever people will talk about it for years," civic activist Ref Lindmark says.
"Now we get it all back in one day," he says. "We just sat here and watched it pour non-stop."
Clark Williams-Derry, 35, a Delaware native who has lived here for five years, has grown accustomed to the wetness.
"Here there are a hundred different names for rain: hard rain, mist, drizzle and it goes on," he says. "In most places, they talk about scattered showers. Here, it's scattered sun breaks...I think it's part of the reason Seattle is the coffee capital of the nation. You need something for the all-day nights to perk you up."
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