Los Angeles has many characteristics worthy of criticism, but the usually unassailable one is the weather. A common conversation: "Dude, being in a car all day sucks." "Yeah, but the weather is so great."
Newsflash: the weather in L.A. sucks too.
Up until recently, this had been an anecdotal thing I noticed. I grew up here, and remember in college being able to lay out on the roof of my apartment building every single day in February to work on my tan. It *felt* like that would be impossible today, what with persistent rainstorms and bizarre freezing spells (like the one we're experiencing now, or over Thanksgiving, when I wore a long wool coat - for a full week - that I had never before donned in L.A.) But now I *know* it would be impossible.
I finally called the California state climatologist, Michael Anderson, and guess what: This past decade, we've had six Februaries below normal and only three that were above in terms of temperature for the whole south coast of California. Anderson says the weather in L.A. is totally variable, so guessing whether this is a cyclical thing or a long-term pattern would be folly. So where did the myth that it's sunny year-round come from? Says Anderson: "It's a story that we hide because the average sounds fabulous. It's around 72. What we don't tell people is that the average is just a crossing point among the crazy weather that happens in between."
So, even without the change, L.A. has always had violent rainstorms and cold spells. Bringing this up drives my mother, and most longtime or transplant L.A. people, completely nuts. Their stock response: "Try living in London, or New York, or Duluth. Then tell me how much the weather here sucks." Well, I've done it. I was on the East Coast for 4 years, and, YES, the weather here is relatively better, on average, than it is out there. I accept that East Coasters will balk at my whining while they are dealing with 3-foot-tall snow banks. Still, the weather out here is not everything it's cracked up to be.
The myth that L.A. is sunny year-round has been debunked before. There's a memorable scene in "Singin' in the Rain" where Gene Kelly has just moved to "sunny California" to pursue his acting career, and is surprised to find himself caught in a downpour outside the gates of a Hollywood studio.
But that surprise persists. (Check Twitter for mentions of LA weather right now and note all the "wtf's.") Last summer, I went with a friend in the evening to watch an outdoor movie and she was dressed in just a tank top. I warned her that she'd be cold, but she didn't listen. My pessimistic self brought an extra blanket, so I was able to save her delusional, freezing butt. Keep in mind, this is a friend who's lived in L.A. for going on 8 years! Still she forgets, or wants to forget, that it gets pretty damn cold in the evenings all year round.
The myth even persists on a week-to-week basis. I mentioned Thanksgiving's freezing spell. Between that time and a deluge a few weeks later, we had about 4 days of glorious sun. My mother never misses an opportunity to point out how wrong I've been about the weather, so as we sat in the sun in the backyard, she said: "See? *Now* do you agree that we live in paradise?"
Well, sorry, but no. I'm not buying into the collective amnesia. Note: I love LA, always have and always will. Part of what makes the city interesting are its myths and their well worn history, from West's "Day of the Locust," to Didion's dark writings. When people express amazement about the weather, they're fitting neatly into that tradition (or, into the
delusion that the literary tradition criticizes.)
So why do I insist on being so vocally negative about it?
I guess I'm just bitter that the myth isn't true and I can't go back to pretending it is. I'm angry at the gods, and every time people express amazement at the terrible weather, it's like rubbing salt in a wound. So come, friends. Join me in reality. Let's all get over it and stop being so pathetically surprised each time it gets freezing. And please - bring your
own jacket so I don't have to save you.
Alex Schmidt reports for NPR and other outlets. She is a lifelong Angeleno, save for 4 recent years spent on the East Coast.