Wednesday, February 22, 2012

When It Rains…

Traffic in the rain on I-5 from the Skidmore Overpass

it pours, right? Read on—& welcome to another Rose City Wednesday!

At least in North America, it’s a pretty well known fact that the Pacific Northwest is a rainy area. Both my newly adopted home city of Portland & Seattle have that reputation, & it is well-deserved—yes, it rains a lot in these parts.

But you may be interested to learn that neither Portland nor Seattle rank in the top 10 rainiest cities in the continental U.S.; Mobile, Alabama ranks #1 on the list, & in fact all of the top 10 cities are in the southeast, & most are along the Gulf of Mexico. Furthermore, if one looks at an extended version of the list, no Pacific Northwest cities appear until Olympia, Washington at #24.  Now, if you change the criteria from the amount of rainfall received to the number of rainy days per year, things change a bit; in this case Olympia has the dubious distinction of being #1, & Eugene, Oregon comes in at #5; but otherwise, once again you have all southeastern cities. 

Drizzle & soggy streets on N. Mississippi Ave

How can this be? Well, a few things to keep in mind. One, much of the rainfall in Portland is in the form of drizzle, as opposed to the out-&-out cloudbursts that happen in the southeast, & even along the eastern seaboard in general in the summer months.  That’s not to say that there are no soaking rainstorms, but it is to say that on many “rainy” days the rainfall is more of a nuisance than an absolute deterrent, even to those of us who travel a lot on foot & wait at bus stops.

Another thing to note in terms of the reputation that Portland, Seattle & the Northwest in general hold, is that it does get cloudy here. In fact, in a separate study of the U.S. cities with the most cloud cover, Seattle came in at #4 & Portland at #5, with all the top five cities being located in either Oregon or Washington (Astoria, Oregon, on the coast, is #1.)

Overcast? Yes, a lot!

In addition, Portland has the rainy/dry (or at least, considerably less rainy) season phenomenon. From October thru March, there is at least three inches of precipitation each month (October being the lowest on average with 3 inches even), peaking at 5.64 in November. Of the 26 plus inches of precipitation that falls on an average in those six months, only 2.5 inches on an average is snow (with February averaging 1.2 inches per year as the snowiest month), so a lot of rain is coming down in a 6 month period. & in fact, if we go back to the Weatherbill study I quoted earlier, we find that Portland (& Seattle of course) rank in the top five rainiest cities in the U.S. when we look just at that six month stretch (Portland being slightly rainier than Seattle during the first three months, & vice versa during the second three month period.)

The Spurs of the Moment at Garden Eclectica, Portland: Eberle Umbach, Dani Leone, Chris Leone & Yrs Truly

Of course, as this photo illustrates, it can rain here most any time—this isn’t California, where the Major League baseball teams frequently go a season or two with no rainouts. That photo was taken in June 2007!

So, as I was told when I moved here: an umbrella is often more of a nuisance than a necessity, but a hat &/or hoodie—yes, you’ll need that for sure!


  1. That top shot could be Southern Ontario!
    Portland sounds very much like Cape Breton, Nova Scotia where drizzle is pretty much a daily word.

    Love that brick red "Mississippi" bar shot!

  2. Hi Kat: Now does Cape Breton have the daily drizzle year round or just during one season? While it can rain here any time (unlike much of California, for instance, where the summers are truly dry), it rains much less from April-September, & especially in the summer itself. I also noticed this morning that I got the snow stats wrong--I was using the totals in centimeters as if they were inches! The total snowfall on average for the year is 2.5 inches, with February being the highest at 1.2.

    Glad you liked the photo!

  3. Spring, Summer, Fall, I'd say. Winter is usually one long blizzard.
    Okay, I exaggerate, but you wouldn't think so the way my uncle goes on!

  4. Hi Kat: Now that sounds challenging & a lot more inclement than Portland!

  5. The other Mairi wrote a poem awhile ago calling Halifax "Our Lady of Perpetual Rain." At 56 inches of precipitation a year, most of it wet stuff, that seems fair enough. I don't know how Cape Breton compares, but in Halifax it's spread evenly over the year, with snow making up less than half the numbers in the winter months.

  6. Hi Mairi: 56 inches per year is a lot of rain. Portland averages about 36, which means 10 inches over the 6 months from April thru September--which is why it isn't one of the top rainy cities in the US. In comparison with the east & especially the southeast, the springs & especially summers are quite dry on the average.

    I'd love to see Mairi's poem--great title!

  7. I don't mind the rain so much, but that constant cloud cover is definitely the issue for me. Then again, no place can tempt me to leave Oregon in June, July, August, and September. Not even Paris.

  8. Interesting, I wouldn't have guessed Birmingham, Alabama.

    Usually what I like best about rain is right when it's over, so I don't need an umbrella, but there's a clean cool smell to the air.

  9. Hi HKatz: Well, the people who did the study would have been surprised by Birmingham too, because that was yet another error in the post, just like the snow one I corrected earlier! In fact it's Mobile, Alabama. Here's the top 10 in both total rainfall & total days with more than .25" of rain:

    Average Rainfall
    (in inches)
    1. Mobile, AL 66.9
    2. Pensacola, FL 64.6
    3. New Orleans, LA 63.9
    4. West Palm Beach, FL 62.5
    5. Lafayette, LA 61.8
    6. Baton Rouge, LA 61.7
    7. Miami, FL 61.5
    8. Port Arthur, TX 60.8
    9. Tallahassee, FL 60.5
    10. Lake Charles, LA 58.2
    U.S. Average 34.5

    Rainy Days
    1. Olympia, WA 63.5
    2. Mobile, AL 59.3
    3. Chattanooga, TN 58.3
    4. West Palm Beach, FL 58.1
    5. Eugene, OR 57.7
    6. Huntsville, AL 57.4
    7. Miami, FL 57.0
    8. Knoxville, TN 56.6
    9. Pensacola, FL 56.4
    10. Birmingham, AL 56.4
    U.S. Average 37.9

    You'll notice that Portland's average precipitation accumulation of 36.1 is not all that much higher than the U.S. average rainfall of 34.5, & if you subtract the 2.5 inches of snow, it's actually slightly under--of course none of those places in the top 10 get significant snowfall, if any.

    I also like the fresh feeling after a rainstorm!

  10. Christine: I'm just so glad to get away from the cold & snowy Idaho winters & the blisteringly hot Idaho summers, that I'll take the rain & overcast. In fact where I lived in Idaho was often subject to inversions in the winter, & that's even worse than the cloudiness. & you're right, from what I've experienced, those months here are gorgeous.

  11. I thought it was only us English who riffed on the weather!

    Those photos of drab wet days - so like over here. In England, Manchester is famous for it.

    And a friend once went to a pub in Glencoe in Scotland on a wet day to be told it had rained there for 136 days consecutively. I'm surprised they hadn't started to build a dirty great wooden boat.

  12. Hi Dominic: No, we take a good bit of interest in it over here too! I looked up the climate info for Manchester, & there are some similarities--the total rainfall is very similar. The differences are that it rains more in Manchester in the summer than here (on average) & less in the winter (ditto.) As I mentioned in the post, Portland typically gets a disproportionate amount of its rainfall in the winter, while Manchester's monthly averages look pretty consistent. Also, Manchester seems to be on the average a fair amount warmer than Portland, actually by close to 10 degrees on average except for July & August, whgere it averages just a few degrees warmer.

    Interesting! & yes, people talking of building great dirty boats here too!


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