Islanders cope with the coldest April on record

David Mielke, clad head to toe in rain gear, walks down the highway to his yoga class on Monday. In the rain, of course.  - Natalie Johnson/Staff Photo
David Mielke, clad head to toe in rain gear, walks down the highway to his yoga class on Monday. In the rain, of course.
— image credit: Natalie Johnson/Staff Photo

Rain or shine, each day David Mielke makes the half-hour walk from his home on 171st Street to the Vashon Athletic Club for a yoga class. But so far this spring, he’s seen a lot more rain than shine. 

Last month, the Seattle area experienced the coldest April in recorded history, with an average daily high of 52.2 degrees, according to the National Weather Service. The previous record was set in 1970, when the average high for the month was 52.6 degrees. 

April also proved to be Seattle’s seventh wettest, with 4.46 inches of rain, nearly twice the average for the month. And so far May is providing little reprieve from the winter-like weather.

As Mielke walked briskly along Vashon Highway Monday dressed in a long rain coat, waterproof pants, boots and a wide-brimmed hat, he said that although he wishes the sun would come out more, he’s gotten used to the rain and cold.

“I actually like it,” he said. “It feels fresh and cleansing.”

Down the road at Thriftway, however, Rial Cummings and Caroline Brinkley weren’t feeling as positive.

As a cold drizzle came down, the two quickly loaded groceries into the back of their Subaru. Brinkley, who was 

dressed in shorts to work out in, shivered from the cold. “(Exercising) is the only way to get warm,” she said, laughing.

Cummings said the two moved from Montana a few years ago and have found themselves wishing more and more that the bad weather would let up.

“As Humphrey Bogart said in Casablanca, ‘I was misinformed,’” he said. “I knew it rained out here, but I didn’t know it rained this much.”

As Vashon enters May, many Islanders find themselves itching for sunnier days: from those who are simply tired of the gloom to business owners who struggle to make ends meet when it’s soggy and cold.

Sylvia Matlock, owner of Dig Floral and Garden, says the poor weather has taken a hit on her  nursery. Some of the plants simply aren’t growing yet, and some that are ready to plant would never survive in this weather, she said. Even some flowers that normally show their colors this time of year have yet to open up.

“(Customers) think the flower is dead, but it’s not,” she said. “They just have to back off a little.”

What’s more, Matlock said, many people simply don’t feel up to gardening when its cold and rainy. “The trees and shrubs love it. They’re enjoying all this wet weather,” she said. “But we don’t like it.”

Matlock remains hopeful that the sun will soon shine, but worries that by the time it does, gardeners may feel that it’s too late to start planting.

“We all have our calendar when we like to do things,” she said. “Mother’s Day is kind of the peak point where a lot of people garden, and it tapers off after that.”

Kathy Wheaton, owner of Kathy’s Corner, says her nursery is experiencing the same thing. It’s particularly difficult, she said, as this is the second cold, wet spring in a row. Her profits are down 50 percent compared to this time last year.

“And last year wasn’t a good year. That says it all,” she said.

Thankfully, Matlock and Wheaton both run landscaping businesses that have taken off in recent years, which they say helps make up for the slow spring.

Still, Wheaton says, she worries about what the bad economy combined with a bad spring could mean for her business.

“Every time I open my email, someone else is going broke,” she said. “The growers are going in handfuls.”

Michelle Crawford says business at her farm, Pacific Potager, is also dependent on selling plant starts as well as produce, many of which are in short supply right now, sitting in her greenhouse waiting for warmer and dryer weather.

“It has been challenging to get things in the ground outside because it’s so wet. … I’m about halfway planted compared to what I normally would be outside,” she said.

Crawford, too, hopes that Islanders won’t give up on gardening just yet.

“You can plant broccoli in April, but you can also plant it in June and July,” she said. “At some point, spring has to come.”

Jeff Ammon, owner of Vashon Island Bicycles, is also feeling the pinch of a cold spring.  Normally, high gas prices get people out of their cars and onto their bikes — and into his shop for new tires, tune ups, even a new bike. But apparently not even savings will drive more Islanders to ride when it’s cold and wet out, he said.

“It’s been a lot slower this spring than in the past,” he said, “and I’m sure it’s the weather.”

Ammon, who said it’s difficult to run a small business on Vashon even in nice weather, said he recently held a sale to attract more customers into his shop. “I think it drew some people. …  Anything to get people’s attention,” he said.

Business owners aren’t the only ones keeping an eye on the unusual weather, though. Spring athletes have been arriving almost daily to muddy practice fields.

“Baseball isn’t really a gym sport,” said Vashon High School baseball coach Steve Hall. “But that’s where we go when it’s pouring down rain right now.”

The varsity baseball team has had more than a third of its games cancelled this season and is now trying to squeeze in several rescheduled games before playoffs begin, Hall said. And due to conflicts with rescheduled games, the junior varsity (JV) team has only played twice this season.

“It’s been really, really frustrating for the JV kids,” Hall said. “They’ve spent this season just practicing.”

Hall said area coaches are now starting to worry that rescheduled games will also be rained out, and Nisqually League officials recently called a meeting of high school athletic directors to examine the situation. 

“It’s a real scramble,” he said.

Unfortunately it doesn’t look as though the weather will turn any time soon. Johnny Burg, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service’s Seattle office, said May also is predicted to be wetter than normal, and the coming months will likely continue to bring lower-than-average temperatures.

“They’re looking for July’s temperatures to be about normal,” he said.

Officials at the Vashon Park District are crossing their fingers and hoping the weather does in fact turn by the time summer begins.

Last summer, the Vashon Pool came up several thousand dollars short, in part because of low attendance due to poor weather. Cynthia Pringle, the district’s business manager, said kayak rentals were also down because of the weather, though a spike in group tours made up the difference

“We’re hoping that something’s going to give and here comes the sun. … We’re hoping if we have good temperatures this summer, we’ll have a good year,” she said. 

Pringle said she’s encouraged, though, that the poor weather doesn’t seem to be stopping Vashon residents from making summer plans. Many are already signing up for summer activities and camps and seem to be excited about the prospect of warmer days.

“It’s the Northwest,” she said. “I think people shake off the rain and say summer’s coming and will it on, even if it never comes.”


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