John Metcalfe was CityLab’s Bay Area bureau chief, covering climate change and the science of cities.
Most of the eastern U.S. is actually wetter.
Seattle just got bombed with righteous rain—Sunday was the third-wettest March day since 1894—and no doubt many people are shaking their heads and saying, "I could never live there."
But contrary to moist expectations, Seattle is far from the rainiest city in the United States. True, it can seem like nine months of the year are blah and gray, but the summers are beaming and fantastic. Even during the wet season(s) it's rare to have a ground-pounding deluge, as the precipitation tends to be as fine as a greenhouse keeper's plant spritzer.
Brian Brettschneider is a 44-year-old independent climatologist in Anchorage who's perplexed by the city's sodden notoriety. "Some places here in Alaska receive more rain in a month than Seattle receives in a year, so I have always found it curious that Seattle has this wet reputation," he says. "When I visited New York last week for the first time, I looked up their climate data and found them to be wetter than Seattle."
To correct any misconceptions floating around, Brettschneider went digging at the National Climatic Data Center and emerged with this simple, great map of places wetter than Seattle. Among them are most of the East and the South, as well as slices of the Pacific Northwest, southern Alaska, and Hawaii.
The differences in dampness are often vast. Seattle gets 37.5 inches of precipitation during an average year, a drop in the rain barrel compared to 126.7 inches in Hilo, Hawaii, and 141.3 inches in Ketchikan, Alaska. Many cities not associated with showers in America's consciousness trump Seattle. There are 49.7 inches in Atlanta, for instance, 49.8 in Houston, 44.7 in New York, and 41.5 in Washington, D.C.
True, Seattle does endure what can seem like endless stretches of trifling rain. "With cooler temperatures and infrequent thunderstorms, Seattle experiences many days of light, steady rain when compared to most places in the eastern half of the U.S.," says Brettschneider. But if you actually go out armed with an umbrella, you might be mocked by locals (the appropriate gear for such piddling precip' is a baseball hat).
Here's another map from Brettschneider addressing Seattle's large number of days (152) with precipitation. Red circles indicate spots with more days of falling H2O, blue ones less: