Is Seattle Really the Rainiest City in the U.S.?

Where do umbrellas get the most use?. Kitty Kaht [CC by 2.0]/Flickr

With rainy season in full swing, my thoughts are with those affected by the torrential floods last month. Every time a thunderous rain rolls through South Florida (which is almost a daily occurrence), I think about how rain that doesn’t quit can be disastrous. It was a monumental weather month for America — in fact, this past May was the wettest month ever recorded in U.S. history. During times like these, Seattle comes to mind — what some call the rainiest city in America.

Brian Brettschneider, a climatologist in Alaska, created a map comparing American cities’ annual precipitation after scouring through National Climatic Data Center information. He surprisingly found that the East and South are wetter than Seattle. Seattle only gets 37.5 inches of rainfall in an average year. Cities that don’t even cross our consciousness as “wet cities” — Atlanta, New York and Washington, D.C. — all have average annual rainfall of 40 inches or more.

So where does Seattle get its rainy rep? Along with comparing precipitation amounts, Brettschneider also created a map delineating what he calls the “dreariness index” — that is the sum total of precipitation plus cloudiness plus wet days. In this comparison, Seattle comes out on top. So it’s the overcast that gives Seattle its rainy reputation, not the actual amount of rainfall.

Seattle locals say they’re the ones who created the city’s mythical reputation to deter outsiders from coming to visit or live. Many Seattle folks enjoy the rainy weather, because when it does rain (which is often), it doesn’t rain hard, making it a pleasant, perhaps even therapeutic experience.

So which city tops the list of the rainiest in America?

Hilo, Hawaii, and Ketchikan, Alaska, clock in at a ridiculously high 126.7 and 141.3 average annual inches of rainfall respectively. A study done by WeatherBill in 2013 compiled more than three decades of rainfall data from 200 National Weather Service stations in major U.S. cities and found that Mobile, Alabama, is the rainiest city in the contiguous United States, with an average annual rainfall of 67 inches. Not surprisingly, there are a number of Southeastern cities in the top 10 rainiest cities list, likely because of the warm waters in the Gulf of Mexico that amplify strong Atlantic storms.

But Mobile’s rank is deceptive. In fact, eight of the top 10 rainiest cities in the United States are in Florida and Louisiana, making them the rainiest states in the country. I happen to love the rain (when I’m not in it, that is). But it’s not for everyone. I have a cousin who lives in Seattle who swears that her weather is better than mine. Go figure.