When someone learns you’re from Seattle, they’re eager to confirm the rumors. People want to know…does it rain all of the time?
No. Well, sort of. Bear in mind that we’re discussing what’s typical. Certainly, weather is synonymous with unpredictability. Like a lot of places, Seattle has broken several weather records in the past few years.
What seems to surprise visitors the most is the glorious, typically dry summers we experience in our slice of the Pacific Northwest. The weather is usually cool and sketchy through June, but after July 4th – and I really do mean that date specifically, because most years you can warm your expectations by the calendar – the sun dazzles in the Emerald City, giving us less precipitation during July, August, and September than the dew that falls over the desert in Phoenix. Tourists who come during those months are surprised at their luck in having non-stop sunshine, while local farmers bemoan another year of summer drought.
The sharpest contrast to our bone-dry summers comes in December and January, where the sky is a watery shade of dull pewter and we’re drenched for days, literally, sometimes twenty days or more, with seemingly endless showers. Mossbacks cope with the deluge by good-naturedly complaining as we shake off our NorthFace hooded jackets in our local coffee shop; we focus on the holidays, and on creative ways to exercise our dogs indoors. Sometimes it gets cold enough for light snow, and that’s cause for excitement and the novelty of being stranded at home from work or school. Even though these snows have become more common in the last decade, the small, rural town we live in only has two old pickup trucks fashioned with a plow and a deicer, respectively. The most diligent amongst us have a bag of salt for the sidewalk, and a generator at the ready, because when the snow falls off all the magnificent evergreens it inevitably knocks out the power. Aside from the occasional snow, these few winter months are probably what people imagine the area around Seattle to be like most of the year. The incessantly drippy weather and our inability to cope with a few inches of snow at SeaTac airport have given the area a reputation, causing outsiders to ask, “How can you stand to live there?”
But when it isn’t dry in the summer, or annoyingly wet in the rainy season, well, then we’ve come to the hardest bit of Pacific Northwest weather to describe, and it accounts for the most months of the year. A little geography lesson may help. Seattle and the surrounding area, known as the Puget Sound, lies between the Pacific Ocean and the staggeringly high, rocky Cascade Mountain range. Being nestled between the sea and the soaring mountains creates an island-like, mild weather situation reminiscent of England. It’s also why you can count on fairly mild temperatures and having grass-as-green-as-Ireland throughout winter.
The rain we have most of the year isn’t what most people experience in other parts of the country. There’s a distinct absence of intensity. Call it a drizzle, or even a mizzle, but often when you look out a window you won’t be able to see the “rain” in Seattle unless you can observe droplets forming on your deck outside the kitchen door, or tiny pings in a nearby puddle. Outside, it’s like walking around in the gentle spray that supermarkets use to keep lettuces looking fresh. Brutal downpours are somewhat rare. That’s why we don’t carry umbrellas; it’s not because we’re stupid enough to be soaked through. We leave the bumbershoots at home because you’d have to be out of doors quite a while to get properly wet. Usually, a rain-resistant jacket with a hood to nestle beneath is sufficient, not to mention a lot less fussy. After a time, you don’t notice the mists. And although gray skies abound (the real reason Californian transplants don’t often adapt, it’s because they’re not used to cloud-cover) the drizzle is rather quiet, as well as peaceful. It’s unlikely you’ll hear thunder, or see a decent fork of lightning, for years at a time.
As much as Seattleites complain about the rain, don’t be fooled. It’s the perfect backdrop for a hot cup of the best coffee in the world, and a great excuse to settle in front of the fireplace with a favorite book. It just isn’t that bad, because the truth is, it doesn’t rain all the time in Seattle.