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Are you more likely to need an umbrella in New York or Seattle?

Click to select a city other than XXX.

If your first thought was, “Well, it’s constantly raining in Seattle”, you’re not alone. The mere mention of Seattle seems to conjure mental images of the Space Needle, grunge music, coffee shops, and non-stop precipitation in the minds of many.

But as someone who has lived in this supposed rainforest for a few years now, the preconceived notion of never-ending rain seems strange to me. In fact, I haven’t taken my umbrella outside once since I moved here (and not just because I’d be judged by the locals). That’s not to say that it never rains here, of course. Seattle rain typically falls as a mist or drizzle, which, at least to me, isn’t enough to warrant using an umbrella. I spent more days rain-soaked and searching for my umbrella after the daily deluges in Orlando, Florida; a city known for its sunshine-y, theme park weather.

Convinced that it really doesn’t rain all that much here, I decided to put data to my feelings and compare typical precipitation in Seattle to that in Orlando, XXX, and other cities across the country.

Let’s start by comparing the amount of precipitation (a combination of rain and melted snow) that has fallen in both Orlando and Seattle over the course of 2019.

2019 Annual Precipitation (in)

Looks like I could’ve left my umbrella in Orlando. How does XXX’s annual precipitation stack up?

Last year, it rained XXX in XXX than in Seattle! We were able to find 640 weather stations across the US that recorded precipitation every day for the past 10 years and were located near a city (more details in the methods section). Here are the 10 rainiest places in 2019, with Seattle and XXX for comparison.

XXX was ranked as the XXX rainiest place in 2019, whereas Seattle was ranked the XXX. And just to dispel any feelings that 2019 was an unusually dry year for Seattle, let’s look at the rainiest places (on average) over the past 10 years.

Although the Pacific northwest is well represented on this list of the wettest places, Seattle itself isn’t even in the top 250 out of 640! So where does its rainy reputation come from?

Let’s try answering this another way. Perhaps Seattle’s reputation is a result of the number of days with precipitation, rather than the amount of rainfall. Here’s how the number of rainy days for Seattle and some other large cities throughout the US compare:

Wet Days by City in 2019

Any day with > 0.1 mm (0.004 in) of measured precipitation (rain or melted snow) counts as “wet”


Wet Days

Dry Days


xxx wet days


xxx wet days


xxx wet days

Grand Rapids

xxx wet days

New York

xxx wet days


xxx wet days

Baton Rouge

xxx wet days


xxx wet days


xxx wet days

Los Angeles

xxx wet days


xxx wet days

Interestingly, it seems that there is some precipitation in Seattle for about 42% (152 days) of the year, but, at least for 2019, that’s only a few days more than cities like New York (148 days). Places like Hilo, Hawaii racked up an impressive 268 wet days last year.

So, if precipitation doesn’t fall more heavily or much more frequently over Seattle, why does it have such a soggy reputation?

According to Dr. Nick Bond and Karin Bumbaco (the State Climatologist and Assistant State Climatologist at the University of Washington, respectively) there could be several factors to blame. First, if you’re used to the summer rain and winter snow of east coast cities, Seattle’s wet winters and dry summers may seem unusual. Particularly because the wet seasons can be very wet (I’m looking at you, 30 days of rain in January 2020).

Bumbaco continues that our lack of snow may also be to blame. “I think the fact that lowland snow is uncommon here in comparison to much of the rest of the country (due to our mild winter temperatures) plays into the stereotype as well since our winter precipitation falls as rain.” Perhaps when your precipitation falls as snow, it doesn’t feel as wet and is thus less notable than when it falls as rain?

Bond also pointed out another feature of Seattle’s wet season: the seemingly never-ending clouds. “After it has rained every day for an extended period, and the sky has been blanketed by clouds for seeming weeks, many newbies [to Seattle] might expect the sun is bound to appear again soon but guess again”. The clouds here may not always predict precipitation, but maybe their ubiquity makes it feel like we’re always on the precipice of a storm.

At the end of the day, both seem to agree that the mistiness is a part of life in Seattle, even with its overblown reputation. In Bond’s words “a truly enlightened Pacific Northwesterner essentially ignores the rain”. So if you make your way to the Emerald City and want to blend in like a true local, leave the umbrella at home.

Data Sources

All of the data used in this story came from the Global Historical Climatology Network (GHCN)-Daily database and was acquired from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) open data server. While this database contains data from thousands of weather stations worldwide, we filtered the data down to only include weather stations with consistent daily precipitation recordings from January 1, 2010 - December 31, 2019. Further, some of these stations were located in mountain ranges or other areas away from cities. To make the comparison to cities like Seattle more relevant, we used to find the nearest city or town to the latitude and longitude of each weather station. If no city or town could be located with an Accuracy Score of 0.8 that weather station was excluded. Ultimately, 640 weather stations remained in our analysis. Find the final data and the R scripts used to process the data here.

Definition of Precipitation

While this article speaks most frequently about rain, all data presented is a combination of all forms of precipitation. That is, rain, sleet, hail, snow etc. that falls to the ground. Any non-liquid forms of precipitation (e.g., snow) are included in this measurement as the amount of water that would result if you melted the snow (or if it had fallen as rain). This means that 36 inches of powdery snow, when melted, may yield around 4 inches of precipitation, whereas 36 inches of heavy, wet snow may yield 9+ inches of precipitation. Practically speaking, this number is estimated and is known as Snow Water Equivalent (SWE).