The Truth About the Weather and Rain in Seattle

Overhead shot of rainy Seattle
Arief Nugraha / Getty Images

Seattle has a reputation for rainy, dreary weather year-round, but it's not quite as bad as people make it seem. In fact, it rains less in Seattle than it does in a lot of other cities in the United States—including New Orleans, Miami, and New York City.

On average, Seattle gets 38 inches of rain over 156 days throughout the year, and temperatures stay between 40 and 70 degrees Fahrenheit most of the time, depending on the season. Autumns and winters are colder and wetter than the spring and summer seasons, which see a lot of sunshine and dry days—sometimes even starting as early as February.

Public Market Center on a rainy day
TripSavvy / Matt McGee

Seattle Rain Facts

  • Days of rain: 156 days
  • Annual rainfall: 38 inches
  • Sunny days: 71 days
  • Cloudy days: 201 days (294 with partly-clouded days included)

How Seattle Rainfall Compares to Other Cities

New York City, New Orleans, and even Miami all get more inches of rain per year than Seattle. In fact, it doesn't even make the top 10 list of wettest cities in the United States because Seattle usually gets steady, gentle rain throughout the year while many East Coast cities get huge bursts all at once. The five rainiest cities in the United States are:

  1. Mobile, Alabama: 67 inches over 59 days
  2. Pensacola, Florida: 65 inches over 56 days
  3. New Orleans, Louisiana: 64 inches over 59 days
  4. West Palm Beach, Florida: 63 inches over 58 days
  5. Lafayette, Louisiana: 62 inches over 55 days

Comparatively, Seattle only gest 38 inches of rainfall per year, but it rains much more frequently throughout the year. However, it's not the rainiest city in the state of Washington, either. While Seattle may get more rainfall than Tacoma's 37 inches, Olympia—located further to the south—gets 50 inches of annual precipitation.

View of Elliott Bay Marina and the Olympic Mountains from atop the Space Needle
TripSavvy / Angela M. Brown 

What Cause Seattle's Weather

Seattle is right in the path of a weather pattern that routinely brings in a lot of moisture off of the Pacific Ocean. Water evaporates from the ocean and is carried by weather patterns up over the Olympic Mountains, where it cools and the water droplets condense into the rain we all know and love. The Olympics create a rain shadow, which is most commonly over areas near Sequim—a small town northeast of the mountains that gets only about 16 inches of rain a year—and to an extent, this rain shadow benefits Seattle.

On the downside, you'll only find about 71 days in Seattle that are clear each year. Fortunately, many of the city's cloudy days feature what some call "sun breaks" and are not dreary or rainy necessarily. Mostly cloudy weather occurs on about 201 days out of the year, but this number goes up to 294 if you count partly-cloudy days, and most overcast weather occurs in the autumn and winter.

What to Pack for Seattle Weather

Your packing list for visiting Seattle will largely depend on what time of year you're coming; however, you'll likely want to bring a raincoat or waterproof jacket with a hoodie no matter when you visit. Seattle residents and natives don't use umbrellas as frequently as residents of other rainy cities, mainly because the wind speeds can get too high for umbrellas to withstand (especially in fall and winter).

If you're visiting Seattle in the spring or summer, pack a variety of lightweight t-shirts and shorts as well as a few pairs of long pants and a light jacket for nighttime temperatures. In the fall and winter, you may want to leave the shorts at home and bring along a variety of cool-weather clothing like sweaters, light jackets, long pants, and maybe even a heavier coat.

Seattle Art Museum in Washington state
TripSavvy / Noah Kreyenhagen

What to Do in Seattle When It Rains

Wet weather doesn't usually stop Seattleites from getting out to do what they want to do. You'll see people out jogging, walking, and even hiking in the rain in Washington state, but there are also plenty of places to stay dry on rainy days in the city.

If you don't want to take a rainy walk, visit some of Seattle's museums, which are especially great on free museum days. The biggest museums in Seattle include the Seattle Art Museum, Museum of Flight, Museum of Popular Culture (MoPOP), and the Museum of History and Industry (MOHAI). Also, don't miss out on the Seattle Underground Tour, which takes you through the subterranean corridors of what remains of part of the city that burnt down in 1889.

Seattle also has plenty of indoor shopping at places like Westlake Center downtown, Southcenter Mall just to the south, and the Bellevue Collection to the east, which is large enough to keep you out of the rain for quite a while as it includes three shopping centers all connected by covered walkways and sky bridges. Additionally, spending some time at Pike Place Market is always good for an hour or two out of the rain.

You can also go see a show—between the 5th Avenue Theater, Paramount, Showbox, ACT Theater, and other venues large and small, there's always something on stage. Alternatively, if you really just need to get the kids out of the house, head to places like the Family Fun Center in Tukwila, the Seattle Aquarium, or the Pacific Science Center or explore the Volunteer Park Conservatory.

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