Yes, it does snow in Seattle. However, depending on where you’re from, the answer may be “kind of” rather than a firm yes. Seattle is not exactly known for its heavy snows. So if you’re used to knee-deep powder, then you won’t see that kind of snow in Seattle and you might wonder what all the fuss is about. In fact, when we get snow, it’s usually just an inch or two, or even a mere dusting, but don’t be surprised if most people around you marvel at the snow coming down. Snow isn’t common enough in Seattle to be the norm so residents usually get excited when even a few flakes come down.
Still, even though the Seattle area doesn't often get heavy snow, there are still some unique considerations for when it snows in the Northwest. Read on to find out what makes snow in Seattle so unique and often problematic even when it is just a few inches!
What kind of snowfall does Seattle get?
Even though Seattle averages just a bit over five inches of snow each season, many years don’t get much snow at all. Record years have gotten amounts that would be extremely unusual today—21.4 inches in 1950, 21.5 inches in 1916, and a reputed 64 inches over the entire season in 1880! Many years, we don't get any snow at all, or there may just be a light dusting that quickly melts away.
Seattle Mostly Shuts Down in the Snow
Despite the low average snowfall each year, be warned. When Seattle does get snow, the city tends to shut down (or at least operate at low capacity) even more than cities that get far more inches of snow. One chief reason behind this is that Seattle, Tacoma and other Puget Sound cities are filled with hills. Temperatures also often hover just near freezing so that the snow melts and then freezes overnight, making roads slick, icy and dangerous. If you work or live in downtown Seattle or Tacoma, the bus is a good option on icy mornings if you don't want your car to turn into a sled. If you do go out, be extra careful.
Driving in the Snow
If you do have to drive after a snow, be careful. Even if you're an experience snow driver, many drivers here are not. Watch out for other drivers, go slow and allow plenty of space between you and the cars around you. Avoid going down hills unless your car has chains or is otherwise equipped to handle that situation. A few snow-driving strategies can go a long way if you have to be out.
For an example of how badly hills and snow mix, see this YouTube video of Seattle cars sliding in the snow.
If you need to head into either Seattle or Tacoma’s downtown cores, it may be best to stick to public transportation. Both cities feature downtowns with plenty of hills, which can become downright unpleasant if you hit a patch of ice. Even public buses often modify their routes on snowy days, but can almost always get you where you need to go.
If You Have to Head out of Town...
If you need to drive out of town, another consideration of snow in the Seattle area are the mountain passes. If you're heading east, you have a few choices to get over the Cascades, but make sure you check the road conditions before you go. If there's snow, you're often not allowed on the passes without chains and you'll need to know how to chain up. The passes are at different elevations as well, so conditions can be different on different passes. If you're going north or south, you're likely safer, but there is a pass on I-5 in Oregon to check before you go.
Get Used to Easily Impressed Locals
If you're from the Northwest, you know how thrilling a few snowflakes falling can be. If you're from an area that routinely gets more snow than we do, you might be taken aback by the locals who get excited that it's snowing...when there may only be a few flakes. Let us have our fun. Snow is rare and exciting!