Seattle’s Winter Weather (What To Expect & What To Do)

If you enjoy traveling and particularly traveling at a discount, you may be considering a trip to Seattle in the winter.

With fewer of your fellow visitors around, hotel prices will be cheaper and the line at the Space Needle won’t be nearly as long, among many other benefits.

Before you book the trip, though, you might be curious about the weather. How cold does it get? Does it snow? What should you do to be prepared? Based on my years of experience in The Emerald City, I can tell you everything you need to know.

How Cold Does Seattle Get?

I’ll tell you upfront that Seattle does get a little cold in the winter but because I spent a winter or two up in Alaska when I was younger, it doesn’t seem as bad to me!

In November, the average high temperature is 52 degrees Fahrenheit and the average low is about 40.

The coldest month, although not by much, is December, where the average high will be 46 and the low will be 36 degrees.

In January, the average low is also 36 degrees, but the average high, 47, is only one degree higher than in December.

The lowest temperature ever recorded was 0 degrees Fahrenheit in 1950. However, over the past couple of decades, the average yearly low temperature has usually been in the mid-to-low 20s.

Seattle’s Winter Weather – Wind, Snow, and Rain

As you may have noticed while reading the previous section, Seattle does not often get below 32 degrees Fahrenheit, which is the temperature at which water freezes.

However, many people in the Pacific Northwest can tell you that it’s possible for snow to fall even if the temperature is above 32.

This is because it gets colder the closer you get to Earth’s atmosphere, as shown in the first Iron Man movie from 2008. Water can freeze and form snow thousands of feet above the Earth’s surface and hit the ground even at higher temperatures.

However, it’s still a minimal amount. Seattle sees about six inches of snow per year, spread out over four or five months.

December is the snowiest month, which averages about two inches per year. You should not expect a White Christmas here, with apologies to both Irving Berlin and Bing Crosby.

What’s more common, however, is Seattle’s rain. The city’s rainy season starts around mid-October and continues through March.

The rainiest month is November, which sees about 6.4 inches of rain every year. December isn’t far behind at 5.8 inches.

If you come to Seattle in the winter for more than a few hours, you can absolutely expect it to be wet. Those two months alone combine for nearly 50 days of rain!

While Seattle gets less rain than Portland and other major cities in the PNW it beats out almost all of them in the sheer number of overcast and drizzly days.

Another thing that people don’t often consider is the wind, and I don’t just mean that in a philosophical sense.

Washington’s Puget Sound region experiences many windstorms because of its location, although the effects are not as bad in Seattle as they are in other parts of the Pacific Northwest.

There are very rarely hurricanes or tornados in the state, although they do receive something called mid-latitude cyclones that have hurricane-force winds of over 70 miles per hour and gusts of 90-100 mph.

Part of the reason for this is the city’s geography, as winds travel faster when coming down a mountain, a hill, or a ridge.

The strong winds have been responsible for many power outages as well, with the most infamous being the 2006 storm that left nearly half of Seattle’s customers without power for several days and, in some cases, up to a week.

How to Prepare for a Seattle Winter

Before your winter trip to Seattle, there are a few things to keep in mind and precautions that you can take.

First, always be prepared for rain, because there’s a good chance that it’s coming. You’ll want a rainproof jacket and maybe an umbrella, although if the wind is over a few miles per hour, it won’t be of much use.

I also recommend wearing layers and carrying around a backpack or another type of bag, assuming you aren’t renting a car or driving up.

If the wind starts to bother you, you can always go back to the hotel, especially if the weather forecasts suggest that it’ll continue for some time.

If you’re visiting Washington during the winter months and there is snow in the forecast, you’ll have to be prepared for a complete slowdown in everyday life.

Despite receiving snow on a semi-regular basis there is no infrastructure to deal with snowfall in most PNW cities and the cities completely shut down if there is more than a couple of inches.

Unplowed Seattle roads can get borderline impassable

When we were in Lake Steves this past Christmas visiting family we got about 6″ of snow within 24 hours and literally everything shut down. Without snowplows the roads couldn’t be cleared, people couldn’t get to work, and not even fast food restaurants were open.

So, if there’s snow, you might want to rethink your plans for a day or two.

My 3 Favorite Winter Activities In Seattle

There are a ton of fun things to do in Seattle during the winter months. As the crowds are significantly less you can take advantage of the relative quiet to visit popular attractions such as the Fremont Troll, Ballard Locks, the Space Needle, etc.

However, there are a few attractions that I feel are a bit more iconic than others. My favorite wintertime activities in Seattle include:

Chihuly Glass Museum and Gardens

One of the best things about winter in Seattle is the snowfall. And there’s no better place to see it than at the outside gardens of the Chihuly Glass Museum.

Located just steps from the Space Needle, this museum is home to some of Dale Chihuly’s most iconic glass sculptures. It is always spectacular but, during the winter months, the outdoor space is often frosted with snow and turned into a magical wonderland.

Pike Place Market

Snowman at the entrace of Pike Place Market

Pike Place Market is a must-visit destination any time of year, but it’s especially festive during the holidays. Stroll through the market and browse vendors selling everything from handmade goods to fresh produce.

Also, be sure to cross the street and stop by one of the bakeries for a warm cinnamon roll or an apple fritter.

While many of the vendors close up during the week of Christmas, the rest of the holiday season you’ll find the market in full-swing and, if you’re lucky, you might run into some carolers.

Visit Santa at The Fairmont Olympic Hotel

If you’re looking for a unique winter experience in Seattle then look no further than The Fairmont Olympic Hotel. Every year, Santa Claus sets up shop in this luxury hotel, and visitors can sit on his lap and tell him what they want for Christmas.

But that’s not all—after getting your photo taken with Santa, you can enjoy holiday treats like gingerbread cookies and hot chocolate while listening to live carols in The Georgian Room. If we’re in the area for Christmas this is an opportunity that we don’t miss!

Although, I’d sure love to miss it someday when I don’t have little kids anymore… shhhh….

Summary and Final Thoughts

Seattle is an excellent travel destination in the winter, as long as you’re properly prepared. That preparation will very likely depend on where you’re from and your temperature preferences.

For example, my sister and her husband both prefer the cold. They’ll walk around in 45-degree weather in shorts and a t-shirt.

I, on the other hand, love a nice, cozy warm feeling and I wear a jacket everywhere, no matter the temperature. I wear shorts around the house but very rarely outside.

Every morning before you leave the hotel or other place that you’re staying, I recommend checking the day’s weather forecast, as it may be different from when you last looked.

In some cases, visiting Seattle in the winter is actually preferable to summer, as you’ll have a lot fewer of your fellow travelers waiting in line with you at events or attractions in the area.

As long as you have a warm jacket, a few layers, and maybe an umbrella, you’re in for a wonderful winter vacation to Seattle. We can’t wait to welcome you!

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