Soggy weather isn't dampening all spirits


Rain. It keeps coming, as relentless as a plague of squishy locusts.

Drizzles followed by downpours giving way to torrents. Gutters gush like plaza fountains. Windshield wipers wheeze.

Rain. It is suddenly the preferred topic of conversation; for so many days our words now seem rimmed with mildew.

"I thought you brought the umbrella."

"The roof's leaking again."

"When's this gonna stop?"

The region has begun to divide itself into opposing camps: Those who've had enough and are dreaming of a Sahara Desert timeshare - and those who happily go with the overflow.

"I always have loved inclement weather," says Patsy Shifrin, an attorney from Rodgers Forge who grew up in Michigan. "I think it makes you more aware of the world around you, that there's an outside force. I like things that shake me up a little."

Shifrin admits, however, she became more a fan of nasty weather after spending several thousand dollars to have her basement waterproofed: "I used to be apprehensive. It just lightens your load."

The Rev. Mark Wadell of Catonsville United Methodist Church finds solace in the fact that there's "something kind of universal about rain."

It falls on saints and sinners alike. But, really, one shower is about all you need to learn that lesson.

"I do get the blues during rainy weather," says Wadell.

His congregation also lacks a certain spark whenever clouds roil and the heavens open up on a Sunday morning.

"It does sort of subdue the service," he adds. "Church is so full of symbols. Sunlight and the bright stained glass help to lift our spirits."

The poet e e cummings memorably described springtime rains as "when the world is mud-luscious" and "puddle-wonderful."

But Cummings was a poet. He worked at home. He probably had a dry basement.

Most people's frame of mind when their socks are soaked and their collar's turned up to the wind mirrors Brook Benton when he sings those blues that come from sitting alone in a boxcar: "Such a rainy night in Georgia. I feel like it's rainin' all over the world ... "

Four, five, six days of rain. We are all ridin' the Doppler radar rails, hoping (perhaps against hope) that we're bound for sunshine.

"As people deal with the rains, you will see frustrations from flooding damage to their homes and from additional driving time," says Judy Stange, clinical psychologist for the Alexandria, Va.-based National Mental Health Association. "One of the things we see in these situations is that people come to be depressed from loss of memories when they lose their home or valuables they can't replace."

Seasonal-affective disorder is the clinical name for a funk that envelops some people who don't get enough sunlight over an extended period of time. That's a more complex syndrome than simple rainy-day blues. But that's not to say something biological isn't at work.

Dr. Rif S. El-Mallakh is an associate professor of psychiatry at the University of Louisville and director of the school's Mood Disorders Research Program. He has been examining how low barometric pressure affects people.

"We think there's an increase in impulsive behavior, in people doing things that are not thought out," says El-Mallakh. "But we really don't know whether it's an effect of low pressure or a consequence of bad weather. ... All we know is that there is an association: When the barometric pressure is lower, there is an increase in psychiatric visits and an increase in violent crime."

Wasn't the devil made me do it: It was a clash of internal warm and cold fronts.

Most likely that criminal defense will never be rolled out in court. Yet everybody weathers the weather differently. Hank Silverberg, a WTOP storm-beat reporter, gets "jazzed" tooling around the area in one of the Washington radio station's four-wheel-drive Ford Explorers, checking out traffic trouble spots, driving through flash-flood waters that his dinky Ford Focus could never negotiate.

"I say to myself, 'I'm about to tell everybody not to do what I'm about to do.'"

After a few days of reporting about cars, houses and possessions that have been washed away, the high wears off and Silverberg feels "tragedy fatigue." His cure? A "good politics story."

Nancy Cushman, owner of Meadow Mill Athletic Club in Baltimore, was one of those bad-luck storm victims. She left her Nissan Xterra parked outside the club Sunday night while she went to a movie. Came back a few hours later to find it submerged up to the windows. That's the second vehicle she has lost to flood waters in the same parking lot.

"It's just a car," says Cushman, who nonetheless eagerly anticipates the return of dry, sunny weather. Someday. "I'm ready for a good Fourth of July."

Molly Doherty, a professional dog walker in Baltimore, is holding up well under the deluge. The same can't be said for some of her clients.

Doherty believes weather affects animals just like it does humans. Bear and Bella, a matching pair of teeny Maltese, just love sloshing through the rain. But, then, their owner has outfitted them with doggie rain boots and doggie rain jackets.

On the other hand, Bruno the 100-pound English mastiff isn't faring as well.

He's "completely depressed," says Doherty. "He'll go out for about two seconds. Yesterday I held an umbrella over his head."

Fortunately for Bruno, he doesn't belong to Pat Moran, casting director for The Wire. Moran has no use for summertime and fair weather. In fact, she claims to be in a bad mood from April through October.

Moran and her husband live in Mount Vernon, but have a second home on the Chesapeake Bay near the causeway to Gibson Island. Perfect seat for a storm show. And her heart belongs to dark skies and buckets of rain: "It keeps people off the streets, which is good. It cleans up the city. It's also Nature's watering can."

She spent the past several days watching lightning crack and listening to thunder boom. Apocalyptic. Puddle-wonderful.

Then, yesterday afternoon things suddenly took a turn for the better, meaning worse. Thankfully, there was bad news on the horizon.

"The sun's out here," Moran said. "But I see a front coming."

Reporter Joe Burris contributed to this article.

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