Why is Seattle so defensive about its weather?


A rainy day in Seattle

A rainy day in Seattle (Image by Michael Holden via Flickr)

If there’s a U.S. city more defensive about its weather for no good reason than Seattle, I’ve yet to visit it.

What other conclusion can I draw? I’ve had essentially the same conversation with almost every person I’ve chatted up—checkout clerks, neighbors, total strangers–since moving to Seattle in June. It goes something like this:

Me: “I’m New To Seattle. Just moved here.”

Other Person: “Oh, from where?”

Me: “Los Angeles area.”

Other Person: “Oh, you came at a good time. But don’t expect the nice weather you’re about to get for more than a few months. We get a lot of rain here, and not much sun.”

A variation on this theme: “Enjoy it while it lasts, because it won’t last too long.”

A few people have even felt the urge to apologize to me for the climate change that awaits me, like they worked for God or the Seattle Chamber of Commerce. One worried employee at a Fred Meyer store actually asked if I had brought along rain gear, as though nowhere else in the country experiences precipitation.

It’s as if I’ve moved to a city full of lawyers determined to make sure I couldn’t sue on the basis of false representations about the climate.

Seattle’s long, dreary, misty falls-winters-and-springs are well known around the country–the stuff of legend, almost, and part of the city’s considerable mystique. I also think that’s one of the reasons a large chunk of the tourists come between July 4 and Labor Day, so they have a sure chance of eyeballing Mount Rainier, which I never saw during any of my house-hunting trips in the winter and early spring.

But on a scale of 1 (lousy) to 10 (great), I would rank year-round Seattle weather no worse than a 5 or 6 and maybe even a 7. There’s little of the sustained frigid temperatures and snow found in Boston or New York. No need to plug in your car to keep it from freezing like you do in Minneapolis. None of the gut-sucking heat and humidity found in Houston, Dallas or much of the Southeast. Few worries about hurricanes and tornadoes. Above-average air quality.

As for the lack of sun, so what? I lived for a dozen years in sunny Albuquerque–310 days a year of cloudless weather–during which time my Congressman died of skin cancer.

I find this Seattle chagrin over the not-so-bad weather striking, and reflective of a collective mindset I still don’t understand but hope to. It’s quite a contrast with, say Houston, where I lived for a total of seven years. I can assure you that America’s brash oil capital is utterly unapologetic about a mosquito-laden climate where you can have 100 degrees and 100% humidity followed by a long drenching rain that ends with the temperature and humidity still in triple digits.

The defensiveness of Seattle about its weather starts with official statements. “Seattle gets less rain than New York, Miami and dozens of other U.S. cities,” Seattle’s Convention and Visitors Bureau declares a tad testily on its website. So what?  And it’s an open secret within the city’s real estate community that almost every broker deceptively Photoshops the photos for their new listings to insert a bright clear blue sky behind your future home rather than the bland gray sky you’re far more likely to see.

Now, Seattle is hardly alone in its fixation with rain, which, as the old saying goes, is trouble when you have it and trouble when you don’t. But it can manifest itself elsewhere in strange ways. Take Los Angeles, where I lived for seven years, which gets less than half the rain of Seattle and almost all of it in the winter months. Unlike Seattle, Angelenos have an irrational fear of rain, as though they will be swept off a road by a mudslide.

One year, our family threw a New Year’s Eve party. There was a threat of rain. A full one-third of our expected guests called with regrets, citing the forecast. Too risky on the roads, they said. Some lived just a few blocks away.

In fact, no rain fell. We ate Swedish meatballs for a week.

One thing about living along Puget Sound is certain. By the time I’m no longer New To Seattle,  I will have saved a fortune on sunscreen.

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25 Responses to Why is Seattle so defensive about its weather?

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  20. Isla says:

    I should add that, in other words, no one really seems to care about the weather the majority of the time. Unless it snows an inch or two 😉

  21. Isla says:

    As a native Seattleite, I’ve rarely encountered anyone that cares about our cloudy skies. Rather, everyone that I know loves the mild weather and being able to wear the same clothes year-round, give or take a jacket/sweater.

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  25. Zan Deery says:

    When I moved to Seattle in the mid-80’s—there was a joke at the time about Seattle that went, “Just tell everyone who isn’t from here how lousy the weather is…That’ll keep them away…” I truly believe that this is part of the reason for the “weather whine” you are experiencing. This active deterrent still prevails, as it is a clever tool for attempting to keep “outsiders” at bay…or at least getting them to think about how much gray weather one can stand…as an additional deterrent.

    I am originally from Philadelphia, and have never heard people complain so much or allow their moods and behavior to be so influenced by the weather in the NW. I once lived in Seattle, but now live in Spokane.

    Spokane may have Seattle beat for how much one “talks about the weather…” I call this the “farm” mentality…My theory is many people who started venturing to Seattle as it grew were young, white, educated Midwesterners and people from more wide-open and rural areas of the country “breaking into the big city,” wanting something more from their lives than a bar on a corner of downtown Wapato or Ephrata, Kansas City or Fargo…Seattle knew it was starting a “trend” like no other…and that many would venture to it as a result…

    Seattleites being way too serious and politically correct about their weather just reinforces the fact that there is a pretention that has been planted and developed there…not by native Seattleites, but by transplants to the area. Ask some of these people you are encountering where THEY are from, and you will most likely find that they are NOT native Seattleites, but transplants, just like you…Try it…and see…

    I found that most native Seattleites will not go on about the weather or how gray it is there…as they have better things to do than feel they have to prove why they are there to begin with.

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