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September-October 2011

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Weatherscapes

Seattle—Variegated Skies Aloft

“Rain City”—Seattle, right? Hardly. Seattle, Washington—one of the world's key ports and the northernmost major city in the Lower 48 states—lies in a part of the continent under skies that generate a tremendous amount of precipitation, but that rain and snowfall misses the city itself. Seattle lies on a ribbon of land bounded on two sides by large bodies of water: Lake Washington on its east and Puget Sound on its west. Just 50 air miles east is the Hoh Rainforest, the wettest spot in the Lower 48 (which receives over 133 inches of rain per year, on average). The Hoh Rainforest, however, lies on the western slope of the mountainous Olympic Peninsula, and Seattle lies squarely in the rainshadow of the Olympic mountains. As a result, just under 37 inches of rain fall on Seattle every year, on average, less than Wilmington, North Carolina; Little Rock, Arkansas; and Cincinnati, Ohio.

Although the Olympic Mountains “wring out” much of the heavily moisture-laden air carried toward Seattle under the press of predominant westerly winds, the city experiences 150 days of rain per year on average, just not a high volume of rain (precipitation often falls as drizzle), and more than half the year is under thick cloud cover.

ED DARACK is an independent writer and photographer. Visit his Web site at www.darack.com.

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