Most activities and fun things in the Pacific Northwest require being outdoors. And, given the pacific climate, rains are guaranteed to ensure being outdoors isn’t easy throughout the year.
My first trip to the PNW (before I lived here) was to my wife’s hometown in northern Washington and I was totally unprepared for the rain. I spent the entire week soggy and disgruntled.
Now that we’ve lived in Washington for several years you’d think that I’d be a bit wiser…and I probably am. Not quite enough to deal with the rain though. On a recent trip to the Oregon coast, we got absolutely drenched, our tent filled up with rain, and we spent 6 hours at a laundromat washing out the mud and drying all of our bags.
Moral of the story: it rains a ton in Washington and Oregon and, if you visit, you’re going to get wet.
However, if you’re planning a trip to Oregon or Washington state or moving to either place, you might want to know where it rains less.
So, does Oregon or Washington State get more rain? Oregon gets more rain by volume, while Washington receives more frequent rainfall. It drizzles more in Washington, while Oregon has a heavier but spaced-out pour. That said, both Washington and Oregon have sunny places that do not experience as much rain.
In this article, you will learn more about why it rains differently in Washington than in Oregon. You will also discover what you need to know before visiting these states as a potential resident or a tourist. By the end, you will know which one has sunnier cities, drier rural areas, and better sights to see throughout the year.
Rain in the Pacific Northwest: A Brief Overview
There are desert areas in both Washington and Oregon. And they follow the same trend: lying at the easternmost edges of their respective states. The closer you get to the western coasts, the rainier it gets.
This is because proximity to the pacific waters and the presence of mountains results in rainfall. However, there are two ways to see rain. You can count the hours it rains or the total amount of rainwater that gets onto the land over a year.
In terms of overall water, Oregon comes out ahead, while the coastal towns in Washington have much longer rainfall duration. Both states are considered wet/rainy and can experience rainfall throughout the year.
Oregon Rainfall Explained
Oregon gets more rain by volume than Washington because of the location of the mountains in Oregon.
The clouds that lift off the west coast have plenty of room to navigate over Eugene, Salem, and Portland before they come in contact with big mountains. This means that the rainwater has plenty of land to target.
Moreover, Portland is a much larger city than the most rain-prone regions of Washington. Whenever a comparison is drawn, Portland is compared to Seattle. And while it might be as significant in Washington as Portland is in Oregon, it is not the rainfall equivalent of Portland. This comparison can make Oregon seem like it is rainier than Washington.
Washington State Rainfall Explained
Washington has some of the highest peaks, but the rainfall is spread out since its geographical layout doesn’t allow too many clouds to concentrate over its key cities.
Washington experiences more hours of less intense rainfall, which amounts to lower total water collection.
For example, when people talk about Seattle, the common trope is that it’s always pouring rain. Which isn’t quite true. In reality, Seattle doesn’t really get that much rain. However, it’s always overcast and rainy. There is a perpetual mist falling that, while it counts as rain, really doesn’t even create puddles on most days.
Washington vs. Oregon: Where Should You Stay
Having covered the nuances of rainfall in both Oregon and Washington, let’s look at where it would be ideal to stay for someone who prefers a drier climate.
The Big City Rainfall: Washington Wins
Comparing rainfall in Seattle and Portland, Seattle is relatively less rain prone and resident-friendly. Portland is located pretty close to the mountains.
Ironically, some of the mountains responsible for rainfall in Portland are technically in Washington.
In contrast, Seattle is surrounded by a concrete jungle of sorts for miles before significant mountains appear. If you want to stay in the big city, then Seattle, Washington, has a better climate than Portland, Oregon.
What’s more, Seattle wins out on things to do when it’s pouring rain with tons of luxury hotels, Michelin Star-worthy restaurants, tiki bars, and more!
The Number of Dry Towns
When comparing rainfall in two states, one metric worth comparing is the total land that doesn’t experience as much rainfall.
Since Oregon is 1.4 times bigger than Washington and has a larger eastern border, it has more dry land than Washington.
However, the dry areas within Washington and Oregon are rural, remote, and even undeveloped. So while this comparison might work for people who want to camp in a dry climate or simply want to live off the grid, it does not matter to people planning a practical move.
Where Should You Stay?
With the rainfall in both states compared from the volume and frequency standpoint, we can assess which one would be better to stay in different contexts.
If you’re planning a domestic tourist trip, you would have more fun on the road in Oregon but will have more stops in Washington. Provided your camper is sufficiently rain-resistant, you can enjoy sightseeing in Oregon but stay in Washington.
Generally, Washington drizzle isn’t heavy enough to intrude on planned activities. In Oregon, you can catch dry weather quite often, but when it is not dry, it isn’t very conducive to many activities.
All in all, Oregon is a better place to visit if you’re not going to get out of your car, but Washington is better for hanging out at different spots along the west coast. That said, living in a state requires a different kind of analysis, and an excellent state for visitors might not be as good for its residents.
Moving to Oregon? Here’s What to Expect
There is a lot more in Oregon than a lot of rain. When you move to Oregon, you can expect to be closer to nature and with a diverse group of people regardless of where you stay within the state.
Oregon is a bike-friendly state with a balanced mix of urban and suburban communities. The state is seafood-rich, and its coffee shop circuit is well-prepared for the rainy season.
You might find it hard to make friends initially, but people in Oregon (especially outside Portland) are pretty friendly if you initiate conversation around popular Oregon staples.
Moving to Washington State? Here’s What To Expect
Washington is more happening than Oregon, especially in the economic sense.
Washington offers more jobs and relatively scenic outdoor landscapes. As mentioned earlier, it drizzles throughout the year, but heavy rain isn’t as common an occurrence.
Sunniest Places in Washington and Oregon
The size of both these states is significant enough to contain deserts and piers. That’s why the rainfall in Portland and Seattle shouldn’t be seen as indicative of a homogenous climate across these Pacific Northwestern states.
In Oregon, Klamath Falls is located near the Californian border. It is the sunniest place in the state and has pleasant weather compared to western Oregon. Klamath Falls receives 10 inches of annual precipitation compared to Portland’s 36 inches.
In Washington, the sunny places aren’t thriving cities but are pleasant areas to enjoy the weather. Wenatchee and Ellensburg, alongside the tri-cities, experience 300 days of sunny weather.
In western Washington, the closest you can get to a rain-free climate is Sequim, which isn’t immune to rainfall but does have more sunny days than rainy ones.
While the northern cities of Oregon have mild to temperate climates, Washington’s northern states are more frigid because of their geographical location.
Oregon has more places to escape the rain and experience it in a heavier pour.
Washington receives rain in a more spread out and frequent fashion but not as high a volume.
People who dislike heavy rain can pick the sunny places in Oregon or may go to the happening cities in Washington state.
Those who want to escape even the slightest drizzle will be happier in the small locales in Washington or a handful of Oregon towns.