If there’s one thing everyone knows, it’s that it rains constantly in Seattle. That and the fact that Seattle-ites love their coffee.
However, just because “everybody knows something” doesn’t make it anywhere near true. Despite many people considering Seattle to be one of the wettest cities on the West Coast, its level of raininess is constantly exaggerated.
It does not rain a lot in Seattle if we’re comparing it to the rainiest cities in the United States. Despite its reputation as a “rainy” city, Seattle doesn’t even rank in the top 10 cities for inches of rain received. However, Seattle is #6 when it comes to days with measurable rainfall with more than 150 days per year having some level of misty rain.
On an average year, Seattle has 822 hours during which there is measurable rain. So it rains in Seattle roughly 9.4% of the time.
Gray and cloudy weather without rain is another story, however (and is the main reason people are always looking for indoor activities).
Does It Actually Rain A Lot In Seattle?
This question is actually two questions in one. But I can answer both in one go, it rains a lot in Seattle but doesn’t rain a lot in Seattle… clear as mud?
The truth is that Seattle has a lot of rainy days. In fact, Seattle typically has around 150 rainy days per year, beating out other major PNW cities such as Portland. However, very rarely is the amount of rain actually significant as the “150-days-number” measures every day that receives more than .01″ in precipitation.
While other areas of the country (such as my original hometown in Utah) get most of their annual rainfall through sporadic ground-soaking deluges. Such storms are very rare in Seattle and much of the Pacific Northwest.
Instead, you’ll get a constant greenhouse-level misting that will ruin your hair, make the streets slick and muddy, and rob your body of the chance to produce any Vitamin D.
Most locals carry (or wear) a rain shell every time they go out as there is nearly a 50% chance you’ll get caught in at least some level of rain and no one wants to show up to work slightly soggy.
Why Does It Rain So Much In Seattle?
Before we get to the point of comparing how rainy Seattle is in comparison to other cities in the U.S., let’s take a minute to talk about why it rains “so much” in Seattle in the first place.
It’s a little bit technical so hold onto your butt.
To the northwest of Seattle, there is a meteorological phenomenon called the Aleutian Low, a semi-permanent low-pressure system that squats cyclone-like over the Aleutian Islands. This semi-permanent low-pressure system spins counterclockwise, drawing moisture-laden air from the tropics northward.
As the Aleutian Low’s influence extends toward the Pacific Northwest (including Seattle), it collides with the Cascade Range (the mountains that run North/South just to the west of Seattle). These mountains serve as a shield for Seattle, protecting it from the cold, dry air of the Canadian interior while also causing the phenomenon known as Orographic Lift.
Wait, what? Don’t worry, Orographic Lift is just a fancy term for air being forced higher as it moves over rising terrain (such as a mountain)
So when the moist air from the Aleutian Low encounters the Cascades, it is forced to rise, cooling and condensing into clouds laden with precipitation. The Pacific Ocean’s thermal inertia keeps Seattle relatively mild throughout the year, preventing extreme weather patterns and ensuring a steady supply of moisture through prevailing westerly winds. This combination of factors results in Seattle’s seemingly endless rainfall or “mistfall” as I call it.
Comparing Seattle With Actual Rainy Cities
If you’re planning a trip, odds are you make sure to check out the weather at your destination.
When we recently took a trip to Orland, Florida we decided to compare it with Seattle’s annual 37 inches of rainfall to get an idea of what to expect. It turns out that Orlando is #6 on the list of cities that receive the most rain and gets an average of 51.5″ per year!
Seattle doesn’t even make the list.
Check out how Seattle’s paltry 37″ stacks up to the top ten, I’m sure you’ll find some surprises here:
|Annual Average Rainfall (Inches)
|Number Of Rainy Days Annually
|New Orleans, Louisiana
|New York, New York
If we’re talking about the contiguous U.S. (excluding the crazy rainy city in Hawaii and Alaska) then the average rainfall in a U.S. city is 30.21″, not even 20% less than our beloved rain-soaked Seattle.
Wettest Places In Washington
However, just because Seattle isn’t the rain-soaked city that people seem to think doesn’t mean that there isn’t a lot of rain in Washington.
The iconic vegetation that the Pacific Northwest is known for is only possible because of rainfall. These areas and cities are typically not well-represented on lists of “Rainiest Cities” as they are below the population cut-off of the studies (typically 50,000 residents).
If we throw Alaska and Hawaii aside again, one of the wettest places in the United States is actually Forks, Washington (the setting of the Twilight books). The city of Forks averages 119.9″ of precipitation per year with 206 rainy days.
There is also the confounding factor that the “rainiest cities” are typically warm cities that receive only rain. Most places in Washington don’t log inches of rainfall in the winter (as they get snow instead). Wetter areas in Washington and Oregon can get up to 167″ of water falling from the sky per year.
Is It Always Cloudy And Gray In Seattle?
Short answer, yes, yes it is.
Seattle is gray all winter as are most places. However, Seattle’s long gray winters tend to be very long and are the main contributor to the area’s lack of sunny days.
In fact, Seattle has an average of 152 sunny days per year, well short of the US average of 205 days.
With that being said, summers in Seattle can be glorious with blue skies, lots of sunny days, and not too much extreme heat.
It is the long gray winter, however, that has earned the greater Seattle area such a dismal reputation and contributed to all the Seattle-ites’ melancholy.
Is Seattle A Depressing Place To Live?
I love rain. I really do. However, it’s not rain that makes Seattle a depressing place to live. It’s the lack of sunshine that starts messing with your brain.
During the bleak winter months, more than half of Seattle residents over the age of 18 self-reported that they were dealing with “feelings of depression” and had been “down, depressed, or hopeless” for at least a few days over the past week.
The same study (Household Pulse Survey) crowned Seattle as the Saddest Metro Area in the nation. Something to consider if you’re looking at spending much time in the Emerald City.
While Seattle has always been a gray and “dreary” place to live, I personally things that a confluence of issues (such as decreasing livability) is more to blame for the depression of Seattle’s residents than a bit of rain. Let’s face off against the rampant homelessness, drug problems, and lack of affordable housing and I’m betting people will feel better about dealing with the rain.
As we can see, there is some validity in the claim that Seattle is a rainy city. Just maybe not quite as rainy as you thought. Just grayer.
There’s a joke in Seattle that the “rainy rumors” were actually started by Washingtonians themselves to dissuade all the Texans and Californians from overrunning the state. Maybe it’s time to consider a new plan.