Rain: Secrets from a Brit (Who’s seen it all)

When I pinged off my Caltech grad application, a little over a year ago, it started something like: I am passionate about applying to the California Institute of Technology in order to escape the effing rain.

I herald from a small, mountain-ridden, Jet stream-bitten island, quite far East of our Californian Eden. Such topographical (mis)-fortune means that Brits are a little more accustomed to the weather of late than many of you West Coast folk. If I had a buck for every time someone had asked me whether I felt more at home among the inclement weather of late, I could probably feed myself for a year on Mongolian grill alone. The only floor I see in such a plan being the propensity of Browne dining hall food boxes to disintegrate under the influence of their own grease and so how it might survive being carried under the incessant rain beats me. The recurrence of such conversations made me realise there might be a market for some rain-counselling from a battle-hardened veteran like me and so we are.

A recent New York Times article informed me that a frequent refrain of Califorians is that their state has three seasons, wildfire, earthquake and flood. Without wanting to sound like an Earth, Wind & Fire tribute band, there is definitely something in the fact that steady sun is the norm, and beyond that, hell is let loose upon our Golden State. We are so addicted to this norm that our brains, our sports centres, our graduate student accommodations blocks, are woefully under prepared to function as soon as the talk of rain is in the air, let alone when actual spherical assemblies of dihydrogen oxide molecules are tumbling towards you. I was gobsmacked to see life grind to a standstill here on campus: classes cancelled, tennis dates put on hold; the only thing that perked up in activity was my email inbox as emergency alerts came thick and fast reminding me to ‘wear shoes with large surface area’ and ‘avoid quick changes of direction’. Out the window went my plans to practise my tight ballet pirouettes on Beckman lawn. Credit must be given, however, to the newly formed Caltech Rugby Club (_all welcome 6:30pm Wednesdays, Sports Field), _who proved that Caltechers do indeed not dissolve in the rain and enjoyed a wonderful session of touch.

Without wanting to sound too much like a doomsday prophet, rain appears to be on the rise out here in LA: February ‘24 has the all-time rainfall record in its sights, needing only another inch or so in the coming week to place top of the drops, since records began in 1870. ‘Unprecedented weather’ sadly seems to be the meteorological sentiment of our times. But now it is raining more than ever, I hope to convince you that the future is not as bleak as it might seem by the end of this article.

If it were not already apparent, rain is fundamental to my very being. Despite being a fluid mechanicist by trade, I prefer not to dwell on discussions of maximising Gibbs’ free energy, but rather consider rain as an inexplicable creation of the heavens, to which we mere mortals have nothing to say but ‘sod it’ and accepting our sopping fate. In fact, in whatever you currently happen to be reading, I’d wager the author has tactically employed some convenient spout of drizzle in order to dampen the mood, such is the ubiquity of the pathetic fallacy.

One such example can be found in the American classic, The Catcher in the Rye. J. D. Salinger’s wonderfully cynical protagonist Holden is met with a freak downpour: ‘Boy, it began to rain like a bastard. In buckets, I swear to God’. Like the rest of us, he appeals to some higher authority. He describes the rush of mothers and their children taking shelter under the nearby carousel, much like a stampede of Frosh evacuating their leisurely Red Door lunches as the Heavens begin to let loose. And yet, Holden doesn’t move an inch, instead accepting his ‘soaking’ and embracing feeling ‘happy all of a sudden’. A character so determined to never enjoy even an ounce of the new and exciting adult world, ‘damn near bawling’, at something so inexorable, so simple. The rain gives us perspective, reminds us of our ignorance to much of the world’s mechanisms; and provides a periodic reminder (as occasional as that can feel out here) of the power that lies above. Next time you feel a rain coming on, don’t think for a moment, just feel; there are scarcely more tactile experiences.

Perspective is one lesson, but patience is quite another. In whatever ancient culture you choose, the flood has always encapsulated a twinned anger and disappointment from the Gods. Recall the story of Noah and the flood he was instructed to navigate, while ensuring the survival of a pair of all the fauna of his green Earth. But from green quite quickly came blue and that was all he saw for 150 days, or 1.78 Caltech terms for those more in tune with the pace of life here. The rain and the flood taught Noah patience. By my count the LA onslaught of early Feb ‘24, lasted 72 hours or 0.034 Caltech terms - and frustrating eternity for anyone who could feel water wriggling its way in through the Catalina apartment windows or who’s only pair of shoes, a formidable pair of Reebok Club Cs, finally caved in and made traversing campus an endless exercise in hopscotch. For once people’s pleas were not for their problem sheets to abate, not for this current epoch of politics to step aside, their first instinct was to rid of this god damned rain. It felt like Britain. Yet Noah had all this - 50 fold over - and without reception to watch his daily TikTok bible verse. He sent forth a dove in search of dry land and twice she returned to no avail. Only, on the third time of asking did she return, a fresh olive branch leaf tucked under her wing. Noah knew only then had his rain begun to taper. So the next time the rain begins its cascade and shows no sign of slowing, remember Noah and his TikTok-free patience, the new possibilities of you returning dove, and the freshness of life that follows the flood.

Fast forward and our modern day thought-leaders are still cognisant of the importance of the power and influence of the rain. Notably, Queen Riri made it rain on the Billboard 100 for almost an entire Caltech term (10 weeks at number 1), with her hit single ‘Umbrella’. The song is an exposition of Rihanna’s commitment and dedication to the relationship, powerfully promising to keep their mutual ship steadfast, no matter what torrents life might throw their way. A number of practical strategies are presented as means to survive the rains of life. Jay-Z ingeniously suggests ‘flying higher than the weather’. The man is operating on an intellectual plane of existence equal to that of even some Galcit professors; recall Professor Pellegrino’s infamous declaration that there are in fact, ‘no fluids in space’. Rihanna answers back with one of the most oft-karaoke-ed choruses of the modern age. She provides a dove’s hope for the future: ‘ when the sun shines, we’ll shine together’, but in the meantime, ‘you can stand under my umbrella’. I think it is here Riri highlights the greatest lesson of them all, if you have an umbrella, good for you. If you don’t, look around you for someone who might - we the Rihanna Navy are large in number.

Next time you feel yourself getting down as that aggressive yellow, paternalistic emergency banner pops-up, remember what that silly little California Tech article taught you. Try seeking Holden’s joy, practise Noah’s patience, or just change your weather goal-post and grab your umbrella. Cool, refreshing rain is in vogue here in LA - _this _is what you came for.