Wuthering Weather

Up here at the Central Library science desk, weather conversations are often much more than small talk. Patrons often want to know how their perceptions match available data, and recently it’s been all about fat raindrops and heavy coats. Has this winter really been unusual? Our research says yes. Seattle has just experienced the coldest winter in 32 years, as explained by Q13. Cliff Mass reports that we received a year’s worth of rain in five months.

Cliff Mass

So: What happened?

The simple explanation is that we moved from an extended “El Niño” period, typically associated with unusually warm temperatures in the Pacific Northwest, to a “La Niña” period, typically associated with a colder and wetter fall and winter. El Niño and La Niña are part of a natural cycle that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) tells us generally lasts two to seven years. Check out this excellent video from NOAA for a quick primer on how that works.

That said, this year’s manifestation of La Niña appears to be unusual. Seattle may have set records, but overall temperatures were mild. In addition, California got a solid dose of much-needed rain, when a typical La Niña would have brought drought. Curious.

What will come next?

USA Today reports that La Niña has technically ended, and “La Nada” has begun. La Nada is a period characterized by neutral temperatures that is neither El Niño nor La Niña. The National Weather Service suggests that a return of El Niño is possible, but it’s too early to call. Meanwhile, in Peru, an extreme El Niño-like event has led to severe flooding and the deaths of hundreds, but scientists have held off declaring it officially an El Niño.

The Old Farmer’s Almanac, one of the earliest voices to take a position, predicts that spring in Seattle will be warmer and drier than usual, summer will be warmer and wetter, and fall will be cooler and as wet as you’d normally expect. Only time will tell whether this will come to pass, but have a look at their predictions for 2016-2017. Among the predictions we reviewed, they came closer than most.

To learn more, Ask a Librarian or check out these resource lists available through The Seattle Public Library: Understanding the Weather and Understanding the Weather – Kids’ edition!

~ posted by Anne C.

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20 Essential Seattle Books, Part 5 – Tales of the City

Arriving at our fifth and final post suggesting twenty essential Seattle books, after posts highlighting historyraceplace, and Northwest classics, we finish with a handful of novels evocative of our city and its culture.

There are several good mystery series set in Seattle, but when a fictional detective has been on our rain-soaked streets for three decades his casebook offers real perspective. Homicide detective J.P Beamont made his debut in 1985 in J.A. Jance’s Until Proven Guilty, hunting the twisted killer of a young girl while frequenting such vanished local landmarks as the Doghouse. Over twenty titles later, Beaumont still patrols Seattle’s seamy side, most recently in Dance of the Bones. (For readers who prefer a lighter touch, check out G.M. Ford’s classic Who the Hell is Wanda Fuca? starring wisecracking Seattle P.I. Leo Waterman.)

For a title straight from the dark heart of Seattle weird, we suggest Charles Burns’s graphic novel Black Hole. Published serially between 1995 and 2005, this twitchy tale of body horror graphically depicts a sexually transmitted disease that causes strange mutations among suburban Seattle teens in the 1970s. This is the perfect reading to get you in the mood for the upcoming revival of Twin Peaks, and for fans of the grunge-era transgressions of Douglas Coupland and Chuck Palahniuk.

In Jim Lynch’s 2012 historical novel Truth Like the Sun, a political fixer and golden boy known as “Mr. Seattle” crosses paths with a muckraking reporter out to make her own name, possibly at his expense. This intriguing story spans twin peaks in Seattle’s history: the space age hype of the “Century 21” World’s Fair in 1962, and the frenzied dot.com bubble at the dawn of the actual 21st Century, painting a telling portrait of the complex morality of our city. For an equally compelling novel situated during a memorable recent convulsion in our cycle of boom and bust, Sunil Yapa’s Your Heart is a Muscle the Size of a Fist explores the heady, idealistic fervor of the 1999 World Trade Organization protests, aka the Battle in Seattle. Whether you were on the streets that day, or have taken to them only recently, Yapa’s perceptive novel captures many of the moral ironies and compromises that characterize Seattle’s professional and political life.

Seattle has also served as backdrop for more personal narratives, and the moving, whimsical Broken for You, the first novel by local actress Stephanie Kallos is one of the best of these. When a heartbroken young woman takes a room in a Seattle mansion with a lonely septuagenarian, they gradually mend one another’s lives. If you enjoy Kallos, you might also enjoy Matt Ruff’s fascinating split-personality novel Set This House in Order and Garth Stein’s poignant tale told by a dog The Art of Racing in the Rain.

Here’s the full list of 20 titles in our catalog.

     – posted by David W.

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Bringing Women’s Stories to Life

For Women’s History Month this year, I’d like to highlight the way fiction can take a real person’s life and help fill in the gaps about what we historically know, using imagination in order to bring that person’s story back. In particular, since the historical register generally focuses on men, women’s full lives were often elided or ignored in the historical record, and thus in history class and history books. Here, then, is a small sampling of novels by women writers bringing back to full, bright life women from history.

Jubilee by Margaret Walker
Grounded in decades of research, Walker tells the story of her great-grandmother Vyry, the child of a white plantation owner and an enslaved woman on his plantation. Through Vyry’s experiences the reader sees life in pre-Civil War Georgia, wartime deprivation, and the promise and hard reality of Reconstruction. Continue reading

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A Short Climate Change Reading List

Climate change is an issue on the minds of many people around the world. After years of unsuccessful attempts to come together around this issue, 195 countries met in December 2015 at the Paris Climate Conference and adopted the first ever universal, legally binding deal to address climate change. Yet the issue of climate change was noticeably absent from the televised political debates leading up to the November 2016 U.S. election. I’ve been struggling to wrap my mind around this complex and contentious issue, and I wanted to share some books that I’ve found to be helpful in cutting through the confusion and malaise.

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Recommended reading: Fall and redemption from the 1980s Detroit crack epidemic

James White was born in the Detroit of the 1980s to a middle class African American family, but as his family broke apart in a divorce, the rebellious youth found himself a willing recruit into the front line of the burgeoning crack epidemic. 

There his early dreams of being a doctor fell by the wayside; he learned quickly how to deal drugs and live the seductive yet increasingly brutal life of the streets. After being shot and injured in a fight over a girl, he becomes even more defensive, desensitized and angry and begins carrying a gun with him 24/7. Only too soon, he feels occasion to use it and fourteen months later shoots and kills another young man. He is apprehended and in 1991 sentenced to 19 to 40 years in prison. 

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20 Essential Seattle Books, Part 4: Northwest Classics

For the fourth of our posts suggesting twenty essential books for Seattleites, having focused on history, race and place, we now attempt to suggest some writers whose work best characterizes our “regional literature.” In previous posts we’ve already mentioned Richard Hugo and Sherman Alexie, both of whose works certainly belong on this post. Here are some more Northwest classics for your shelf.

With his mischievous, playful tone, Tom Robbins has certainly helped to define our offbeat Northwest style, but when it comes to picking one book for readers new to Robbins, we’re torn. Even Cowgirls Get the Blues and Another Roadside Attraction are both classic early gonzo Robbins. Then again, Jitterbug Perfume and Half Asleep in Frog Pajamas are both terrific, and set right here in Seattle. In the end, we’ll go with our heart: Still Life With Woodpecker. Why? Maybe it’s the way he writes about blackberries, how they force their way into polite society, engulfing dogs and small children, entwining the legs of virgins and trying to loop themselves over passing clouds. Maybe we’re still a little sweet on the girl who gave us this book in college. Does it really matter? Read it. Continue reading

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Ralph Steadman: Evocative Frenzy

I am unceasingly inspired by the artistic wizardry of Ralph Steadman, particularly his knack for evocative frenzy. Though clearly an expert draughtsman, he’s made a career out of twisting conventional imagery with a demented cartoon sensibility. What appears at first in his work to be frayed and chaotic ends up revealing character with a greater degree of expression impossible with straight realism.


Bathing in his splatters and scribbles is a great recipe for creator’s block, and luckily the Seattle Public Library recognizes the necessity of such work. Here are a few essential Steadman volumes in the collection: Continue reading

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