rainy seattle

The Truth About the Rain in Seattle

Seattle has a reputation for being rainy, but does it deserve it?

Okay, let’s put it this way: Seattle might not be the sunshine capital of the world, but it’s definitely not drowning in raindrops all the time. In fact, it rains less in Seattle than in some of the cities that are known for their beautiful weather.

Take that, Big Apple! Who needs five boroughs when you can have less rainfall? And don’t even get me started on Miami. Sure, they have sandy beaches and tasty drinks, but who wants to be constantly hosed down by the sky? Not Seattle, that’s for sure. So, next time you hear someone scoff at Seattle’s weather, just remember: it’s not as rainy as you think.

Here are some cold, damp facts about the rain in Seattle and what expect when you visit, from someone that lives here!

Seattle Rain Facts

On average, Seattle gets precipitation on 152 days a year, but the reality is that it is often only for a little while or sporadic. Many days will see a light misting, and then sun breaks the rest of the day. It isn’t all just torrential rains in the PNW. 

Winter and Spring are the wettest and coldest seasons in Seattle and when we see the preponderance of our rain. By late Spring, the rains have pretty much stopped and there will be mostly sunny weather. In fact, during Seattle’s ‘summer’ of June, July, and August, there is usually only 5-7 days that will be rainy. 

How Seattle Rainfall Compares to Other Cities

Despite its rainy reputation, Seattle barely makes the list of top 10 rainiest cities in America. Here is how Seattle stacks up to some other US cities for rain.

Top 10 Cities By Number Of Rainy Days

  • Rochester, New York: 167 rainy days 
  • Buffalo, New York: 167 days
  • Portland, Oregon: 164 days
  • Cleveland, Ohio: 155 days
  • Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania: 151 days
  • Seattle, Washington: 149 days
  • Columbus, Ohio: 139 days
  • Cincinnati, Ohio: 137 days
  • Miami, Florida: 135 days
  • Detroit, Michigan: 135 days

As you can see, Seattle doesn’t even make the top 5 rainiest cities in America and even Portland beats it out for rainy days. 

Top 10 US Cities By Total Rainfall

  • Ketchikan, Alaska: 153.23 inches (389.5 cm)
  • Hilo, Hawaii: 126.72 inches (322.0 cm)
  • Mount Waialeale, Hawaii: 73.40 inches (186.4 cm)
  • Mobile, Alabama: 66.28 inches (168.4 cm)
  • Pensacola, Florida: 65.08 inches (165.3 cm)
  • New Orleans, Louisiana: 62.70 inches (159.3 cm)
  • West Palm Beach, Florida: 63.25 inches (160.7 cm)
  • Baton Rouge, Louisiana: 63.21 inches (160.6 cm)
  • Miami, Florida: 61.92 inches (157.3 cm)
  • Tallahassee, Florida: 61.26 inches (155.5 cm)

If you are really wanting rain, however, you can find it in Washington state. Venture out to the coast and you will find it. The Hoh Rainforest (the name should be a giveaway) gets about 140-170 inches of rain a year. Bring your good rain gear if you plan on visiting!

What Cause Seattle's Weather

Seattle sits in a rather odd position when it comes to weather. It isn’t quite a coastal town, but it is coastal, being situated on Puget Sound (Salish Sea), which helps regulate the temperatures here. 

As storm roll in from the ocean, depending on the direction they come from, many pile up on the Olympic mountains and expend their energy, leaving Seattle with only remnants of storms, meaning cloudy weather and misty skies. 

Clouds and storms that make it past the Olympics stack up on the Cascade mountains to the East of Seattle, and this is what delivers most of Seattle’s rainfall.  

When things get interesting is when storms come in from the northwest or southwest, get stuck on the Cascades and dump all their water on Seattle causing some spectacular gully-washing rainstorms.

The record amount of rain Seattle has gotten (so far) is just over 5 inches in one day, which caused substantial flooding. A number that is hard to wrap your mind around is that for every 1″ of rain that King County, where Seattle is located, gets, it generates 40,000,000,000 gallons of water to run off into the ocean.  

What to Pack for Seattle Weather

Aside from our summers and the deepest parts of the winter, you can plan for schizophrenic weather in Seattle, and really the bulk of Western Washington. One minute it will be sunny, the next drizzling or misting, then back to cloudy or sunny. It is best to stay flexible on your clothing options. 

Skip the umbrellas in Seattle. 

I’ve heard a lot of reasons for why Seattle people don’t use umbrellas such as that it is often windy here and so they don’t work that well, which is true. Or that half the time it is just misting so the water is floating around and they are pointless.

Personally, I think this has become a part of the PNW lore and mostly social convention than anything else. Or maybe it is just our way of picking out the tourists in the crowd. 

Spring Clothes For Seattle

With warming weather and brightening skies, Seattle starts waking up the Spring, and people start getting outdoors again. Depending on what you are doing, you will want some shoes that are ok with getting wet, but aren’t full on puddle-jumper boots. 

Spring is the season for layers and most people find that they start off cold in the morning and are too hot in the afternoon, so layer up and be ready for 40° and rainy in the morning and 65° and sunny in the afternoon. 

Summer in Seattle

People think Seattle doesn’t have a summer, but it can get HOT here, at least for a week or two. 

If you are visiting in the summer, plan for 70-80° degrees and no humidity. That means it is short season for the rest of you. I’ll keep wearing mine all year long. 

Clothes for Fall in Seattle

People argue over the best season in the PNW. I love Spring, but Fall is nice too and offers a lot of dry day, but with cooler weather, so you can enjoy being outside without being miserably hot. 

Plan for cool mornings and pleasant afternoons, with the occasional day with rain. Most people will be back to pants, and layers, but this is definitely the start of hoodie and fleece season in the PNW. That means it is time to grab yourself a warm hoodie, a fuzzy jacket, or puffy coat and hand out with friends around a fire pit with some drinks. 

Clothes for Winter In Seattle

Just be prepared for rain, that is pretty much all I can say. A good quality raincoat is pretty much a requirement if you are going to be outside at all, because it might not be raining now, but trust me, it will be soon. 

If you are just dashing from the car into a store, a rain-resistant jacket is good enough, but if you plan on being outside for any length of time, a real raincoat is a must to bring along. My go-to raincoat is the Xerodry GTX, mainly because it is affordable and they have it in my size. Plus it has kept me dry in some pretty torrential rains. 

Under that, I suggest a couple of layers, with a light base garment, and a warm layer on top. Personally, I am a big guy and so get away with a t-shirt and my hoodie from American Giant that I have hosed down with water repellant (Amazon link to my favorite water repellant spray) for most days of just running errands. 

As for footwear in Seattle, be ready for wet. I’m a freak and run around in my Luna sandals all year (unless it really snows or something). You will want either rain boots or good waterproof hikers for general wandering around, depending on how far you are going. Many office workers here have one pair of boots for getting to work, and something else to wear at work. 

What to Do in Seattle When It Rains

Seattle and the PNW in general are known for the plethora of outdoor activities, but not everyone wants to go hiking in rainy and 40° weather. 

Some alternative ideas for things to do around Seattle when it is raining are:

  • Visit the Seattle Art Museum or the Museum of Pop Culture: Both museums offer a wide range of exhibits, from contemporary art to music memorabilia.

  • Explore Pike Place Market: This indoor marketplace is a great place to wander and sample local food and drink, rain or shine.

  • Check out the Seattle Aquarium: Located on the waterfront, the Seattle Aquarium is a great place to learn about marine life in the Pacific Northwest.

  • Visit the Chihuly Garden and Glass: This indoor exhibit showcases the stunning glass sculptures of artist Dale Chihuly, with both indoor and outdoor displays.

  • Take a coffee tour: Seattle is famous for its coffee culture, so why not spend a rainy day visiting some of the city’s best cafes and roasteries?

  • Take a cooking class: Seattle has a thriving food scene, and many local chefs offer cooking classes that are perfect for a rainy day activity.

  • Go shopping: Seattle and the outlying areas, have a variety of shopping destinations, from outlet store malls to at least mostly indoor malls like Alderwood Mall, The Bellevue Collection (mall), or SouthCenter Mall where you can shop, eat, play some games, or even catch a movie. 

  • Relax at a spa: Seattle has several excellent spas where you can unwind and pamper yourself on a rainy day. From regular spas to Asian or even Russian spas, there a variety of ways to pamper your cares away.

  • Go play a game: There are many hybrid arcade-bars in the Seattle area, as well as places where you can go with friends and play card games or board games. Check out the Mox Boarding House or Raygun Lounge just as a start!


Cover Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

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