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Even a record wet winter can’t douse coastal optimism

Published on May 9, 2017 3:09PM

It’s a wonder: Quite a few in business in the Columbia-Pacific region tell me they actually had an OK winter despite the weather.

What a sodden and often dreary season it was. Toward the end of April, the National Weather Service station at the Astoria-Warrenton Regional Airport reported 168 days with rainfall since Oct. 1, breaking a record of 166 set in 1894 and 1921. In Long Beach, a drowning 8.5 feet of rain was reported from September through April 30, a modern record. At the airport, the total was 7.25 feet. In Naselle, 12 miles north of Astoria, nearly 11 feet fell.

Aside from highlighting the well-known fact that our region’s terrain-related micro-climates can produce big differences in rainfall, these statistics tell us that we are a hardy and resilient bunch. Forecast literally calls for buckets of rain? Bah, say we! Let’s go for a nice walk on the beach.

There was a time in living memory when such unrelenting rainfall might have amounted to a small disaster, keeping not only tourists but residents inside, with debit cards securely tucked away in purses and wallets. But I’m getting a sense that the Oregon North Coast and the Long Beach Peninsula have, to some extent, reached a threshold at which even an epically lousy winter can only dampen our economic flame, not drench it.

In part, this is because our economy has expanded and become more diverse. In spite of the rain — and in some cases even because of it — more people are discovering what an amazing place this is. Entrepreneurs from their 20s to 70s see in our communities places where startups are welcomed, diversity is cherished and simple human-scale values — neighborliness, generosity, civic engagement — are in great supply. The Lady Liberty awards — presented each April — were a recent reminder of what extraordinary women and men make their homes here.

Collectively, all these good people create their own gravity, critical mass … call it what you will. They both create and attract new energy, assets and like-minded individuals interested in partaking in the same sense of upward momentum.

This is not to suggest that this winter was all good. The long closure of razor clam season on the south Washington coast meant much less downtown foot traffic in the picturesque towns of the Long Beach Peninsula. There and elsewhere, coastal rain and mountain snow combined to send some potential visitors skiing instead of beach combing.

Nor is everything rosy looking ahead. The predicted rapid return of a drier and warmer El Niño climate pattern this coming winter will probably mean much nicer weather, but brings with it the threat of another bloom of warm-water algae and an associated marine toxin. A warmer ocean also is less advantageous for young salmon; this fishing season, we are suffering the consequences of poor ocean conditions during the previous El Niño between the winter of 2014 and spring 2016 when this year’s salmon migrated into the unforgiving Pacific.

But these and other natural and man-made challenges have less potential to pull down our economy than they once did. We must continue working to preserve all that makes this place so appealing, while at the same time seeking ways to deal with some of the side effects of popularity, in the form of scarce housing, traffic congestion and other suburban issues we previously haven’t needed to address.

Having ample pure, cold water falling from the sky is a miracle to celebrate, a benefit we’ll come to appreciate more in a thirsty world. In the meantime, let’s hope it’s a long, warm, dry summer and fall!


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