Friday, May 4, 2012

Summer rain: fact-checking sand volleyball’s appeal


Yes, it does get soggy in Seattle.

Even so, I took a double-take when I picked up the latest issue of Volleyball USA, the public affairs magazine of USA Volleyball. On the cover: Summer Ross. Inside, “Too much rain for Summer.” On page 29, this excerpt:

 “Having grown up in Southern California, Summer Ross knew she’d have to adapt to wet weather when she agreed to play volleyball at the University of Washington, but she figured it would be okay.
 “'We rarely get rain at home, so I was thinking it would be really exciting,' she said. 'But it wasn’t quite what I thought. It was just too much rain.'”

Ross--who just won (with teammate Caitlin Racich) the first-ever collegiate sand volleyball pairs championship--has offered several reasons for swapping her indoor scholarship at Washington for a sand scholarship at Pepperdine, most of which are detailed in the article: homesickness, the desire to join her older brother at Pepperdine, the lure of attending a Christian school, the chance to play sand volleyball whenever she wants. All fine explanations.

But the weather?

Ross lived in Seattle the final five months of 2011. August, September and October are typically the most glorious months on the Northwest calendar.

I looked up last year’s weather records, and found that Seattle’s rainfall during Ross’s tenure was below—far below—historic averages. That was particularly true in November and December, traditionally the wettest two months on Seattle’s calendar: last year’s total for those two months was more than a third lower than normal.

I next checked out the National Weather Service (NWS) records for Malibu, home of Pepperdine. Yes, Malibu is gorgeous, and yes it is warmer, drier and less lush than Seattle. But the NWS stats reveal a couple of interesting facts:
  • From August-December 2011, both Seattle and Malibu each had the same number of days of “heavy rain” (3)
  • During the same period, Malibu recorded just 7 fewer days than Seattle of “moderate rain” (12 vs. 5)
  • Seattle led the number of days with “light rain” (70 vs. 12). But Malibu had more days of “heavy fog” (13 vs. 3) and of “moderate fog” (58 vs. 31). And in the NWS category of “haze,” Malibu skunks Seattle (91 vs. 0).

 The sand volleyball season spans three months, February, March and April. Pepperdine’s first big 2012 tournament was hosted by USC in Santa Monica, and was played in driving wind, rain and cold. Pepperdine’s first home dual meet at Zuma Beach, against Long Beach State, was held in a relentless wind.

USC Sand Volleyball Tournament, March  17, 2012
Throughout the first half of the season, photos and videos out of Pepperdine showed practices under cloudy skies. The NWS reported that Malibu skies were cloudy or partly cloudy on 27 days during February through April, including 21 days with rain (11 were heavy or moderate rain.) There was fog on 38 days (7 of those “heavy fog”), and haze on another 31.

Yes, it was colder and wetter in Seattle during that same stretch. But few Southern Californians spend time at the beach during the months coinciding with the collegiate sand volleyball season. I well remember one spring weekend during my college freshman year. My friends (one of whom played for John Wooden) and I headed out to Santa Monica beach, where we ran across Bill Walton and his teammate, Greg Lee. Although the sun was out, we shivered in the wind. Lee—dressed in sweats—memorably remarked, “Boys, you can’t rush summer.”

If collegiate sand volleyball expands in years ahead, it will eventually reach colder climates (of the 16 schools fielding teams this inaugural season, Pepperdine is at the northernmost latitude.) Northerly schools will have to use (or build) sand volleyball fieldhouses, which might, ironically, offer warmer and drier (or less-humid) venues than those who play outdoors in California, Florida and other sunbelt regions.

And so—some recruits are attracted to Seattle’s mountains, coast and greenery; others are scared off by stories of rain. But sometimes … those stories are more cliché than credible. And, hey … there’s always Tempe, where the AVERAGE high temperatures last August was … 109.


  1. HI jack. Great article as usual. I have to say... you know writers always tqke an angle. Actually, Summer loved her experience at UW, but the opportunity to play in the inaugural season of collegiate sand volleyball at a Christian school was just too great. GO DAWGS!

    1. Hey Anonymous, then why did she go to UW in the first place?

  2. If I only new then what I know now. I don't know.


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