Seattle welcomes record-setting rain
Rain never looked so good.
As November broke official records for the wettest month ever recorded here, residents across the region found themselves in the somewhat bizarre position of being thrilled by a warm rain Thursday -- if only because it helped wash away the snow, slush, ice and frozen muck of recent days that had closed schools and turned commuting into slow-motion torture.
The National Weather Service confirmed before the day ended Thursday that with 15.63 inches, there had been more precipitation in Seattle this November than in any month in the 115 years that federal records have been kept. Freezing rain mixed with snow late Wednesday broke the previous record, set in 1933 with 15.26 inches, said Johnny Burg, a weather service forecaster here. Seattle’s November average is 5.9 inches.
With temperatures warming Thursday, though, the arctic-like damage was quickly becoming a memory, and for many not a good one.
“After Monday night -- 4 a.m. Tuesday, actually -- I’ll take the rain any time,” said David Donaldsen, one of thousands of football fans whom authorities said took as long as 8 hours to get home when traffic turned to an icy standstill after a sold-out NFL game.
“It looks like Green Bay, but this is Seattle,” ESPN announcer Mike Tirico said as snow and sleet blanketed Qwest Field. Actually, Green Bay was 7 degrees warmer. (The Seahawks beat the Packers.)
Most precipitation in Seattle comes as rain, not snow, even in the dead of winter -- and sustained freezing temperatures are rare.
And the truth is, for all the talk about how soggy Seattle is, in some ways it is not.
“Seattle’s really not a particularly wet city compared to a lot of other places,” said Christopher C. Burt, co-author of “Extreme Weather: A Guide and Record Book.”
“People have a hard time believing it, but it’s true,” he said.
Atlanta, Boston, New York, Washington, D.C., and plenty of other U.S. cities get more average annual rainfall than Seattle does, said Burt, citing National Weather Service statistics.
“Although Seattle gets a lot of rainy days,” he said, “the rainfalls generally aren’t intense at all, so it doesn’t add up to all that much.”
And, striking as the new monthly precipitation record may be to Seattleites, it doesn’t come close to the monthly record in Los Angeles, which recorded 20.51 inches in February 1998 at a UCLA measuring site.
Where Seattle does often lead the pack among major cities is in the number of predominantly cloudy days in an average year -- 226 at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, according to Weather Today, a weather record-keeping service. Downtown Los Angeles, by contrast, has 73, and Los Angeles International Airport has 103. Phoenix has 70, and Yuma, Ariz., the least-cloudy city on its charts, has 52.
Looked at another way: Seattle and Los Angeles both average just three days a year when there is an inch or more of rain. But whereas Seattle has 158 days of “measurable precipitation” -- 0.01 of an inch or more -- L.A. has just 36, Burt said.
Although rain here often comes as a drizzle, a mist or even a faint suggestion, that was not the case in November, which was marked by several downpours and severe flooding in Washington state and neighboring Oregon, where records for the wettest month also were broken in several places.
The precipitation, combined with a freeze that dropped as low as 18 degrees Wednesday, shut down parts of Seattle.
Schoolchildren were delighted as they got some rare weather-related days off, and many sledded rather than studied. Public schools were closed Tuesday and Wednesday, and started two hours late Thursday.
By the end of the day, the snow had all but disappeared, and state Transportation Department spokeswoman Meghan Soptich could report that traffic was “back to normal, pretty much.”
Monday night “was the worst of it,” Soptich said. “The snow came in the evening commute and caught a lot of drivers by surprise during the rush hour, when traffic is bad even on a good night. Then the Seahawks game let out, and it created a parking lot on the roads, which made it hard for our vehicles to get in and get stalled vehicles clear.”
She said that Tuesday and Wednesday, “a lot of people took our advice and just stayed home, so that really helped a lot.”
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November was the wettest month on record in Seattle. The previous monthly record was 15.26 inches, set in December 1933. But other cities have been wetter. Here’s a sampling of records:
City (Month): Inches of precipitation
Hilo, Hawaii (March 1922): 66.96
Blue Canyon, Calif. (Jan. 1909): 48.35
West Palm Beach, Fla. (Sept. 2004): 29.40
Charleston, S.C. (June 1973): 27.24
New Orleans (Oct. 1937): 25.11
Los Angeles (UCLA) (Feb. 1998): 20.51
Portland, Ore. (Dec. 1882): 20.14
Chicago (Aug. 1987): 17.10
New York (Sept. 1882): 16.85
Seattle (Nov. 2006): 15.63*
*As of Thursday afternoon
Sources: National Weather Service; “Extreme Weather,” by Chris Burt
Graphics reporting by Lynn Marshall and Julie Sheer