My grandmother hated Florida — and she had no problem saying so. Just mention the Sunshine State and she’d routinely offer, without any coaxing, the following words.
“I hate Florida,” she’d say. “It rains on one side of the street, but not the other.”
My grandmother, by the way, never traveled to Florida. Never. Ever. All my she knew came courtesy of my grandfather, who did some basic training there before shipping off to Europe during World War II.
Still, whatever tales my grandfather told my grandmother about Florida, it’s the rain story that stuck with her through the decades — and because she said these sentences so often, they’ve stuck with me.
Those sentences aren’t going anywhere anytime soon.
Now that I’ve experienced my second rainy season here, I can completely understand why Florida rain was such an affront to my grandparent’s New York rain sensibilities. Rain here and rain there are two different strains of rain.
For starters, New York rain is an equal opportunity deluge. If it’s raining on my side of the street, it’s a pretty good bet it’s raining on the other side of the street, as well as the entire neighborhood, county, and Tri-state region.
Even on Doppler radar, New York rain is different. It’s a big green blob, creeping forward and lingering for days at a time — and the flavor of that rain changes with the seasons.
Consider the poem “April Rain Song,” by Langston Hughes:
Let the rain kiss you
Let the rain beat upon your head with silver liquid drops
Let the rain sing you a lullaby
The rain makes still pools on the sidewalk
The rain makes running pools in the gutter
The rain plays a little sleep song on our roof at night
And I love the rain.
Soothing, isn’t it? You might even say it’s positively spa-like. It makes you want to run outside to splash in the puddles, spin with your arms outstretched, and gaze upward so the drops can baptize your face.
Now take that same rain and have it fall in January, turning a winter wonderland into a bleak midwinter gray slushy. No amount of poetry can make that seem nice.
That sort of rain — constant and slushy — is rare in Florida. Rather than a green blob, Florida rain — especially during the rainy season — looks like individual green soldiers marching across the peninsula, each one armed with its own arsenal of weapons: swift and heavy downpours, palm-thrashing winds, wall-rattling thunder, and blinding forks of lightning.
Still, the weather during the May-to-October rainy season is often more sunny than wet. The South Florida seven-day forecast during the rainy season looks like this: seven suns, each partially covered by a cloud with animated drops and flashing bolts. In other words, expect anything and everything at any moment.
Some forecasters even provide a rain percentage — as in there will be a 60% chance of rain.
Since I was a child, I’ve struggled with the percent concept. I understand 50% and 25% — but I can never figure out those irregular percentages. That’s why it’s good to have Joe around. He’s great at math, and on sale days we have our Rain Man moment. I simply give Joe a glazed look and he gives me the bottom line — all figured out in his head — on any marked-down item.
But even he’s confused by this South Florida rain percentage.
Let’s return to the idea of 60%. There have been many days this past rainy season when forecasters have actually called for a 60% chance of rain. Since 60% is greater than 50%, I thought there would be a pretty good chance that I would personally experience rain.
And yet, rain would never fall. It would fall somewhere, just not here. I could hear thunder rolling across the sky. I could see rain falling in the distance. But those Doppler-green soldiers would often have marching orders that didn’t include my yard.
Clearly, a lot has to do with location, so I’m beginning to think that that 60% really means 60% of the population will experience wet weather.
If we think of Florida as the dangling appendage that it is, we can see that it is surrounded by water on three sides. When combined with the Everglades, that’s one super-moist environment.
As the subtropics start to boil during the heat of the day, evaporating water forms clouds — each one a tiny bladder. As more and more moisture evaporates into these clouds, they eventually become saturated — so much so that when a Florida cloud has to go, it has to go.
It’s at these moments, as Joe and I are driving along some streets that are wet and others that are dry, when I turn to him and say, “I hate Florida.”
Then we both smile and finish, “It rains on one side of the street, but not the other.”
Just like Grandma used to say.