There are places where rain is rain and the number of seasons is known.
But western Washington is not one of them.
The Seattle area has so many different types of precipitation — drizzle, fog, showers, virga — that locals have taken to making a name for themselves. Is “liquid sun” even used elsewhere? And it also has a seemingly unknowable number of seasons.
In a 2009 essay, Washington State native Jenni Whalen introduced Seattle’s six types of rain: drizzle, fog, sprinkler, “normal rain,” showers, and thunderstorms.
Whalen described the drizzle as a slow, steady rain that can last for days but “doesn’t ruin your hair, your outfit, or your day. It remains fair, boring and unpretentious. And so you adapt because it’s just a drizzle.
Seattle-born comedian Derek Sheen said the Seattle seasons are “like a prank show.” His understanding of them relates to the condition of his fleece, including “having a new fleece” and “needing a new fleece”.
Broadly speaking, we really only have two seasons, wet and dry, said Logan Johnson, lead meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Seattle.
The calendar folks, however, claim there are four.
And the people of the Puget Sound area doesn’t seem to agree.
Some claim that instead of using seasons or months, it would be more accurate to use something like: Rainy, Extra Dark and Rainy, Fake Spring, Disappointment, Juneuary, Glorious Sun, Oppressive Sun, Four Glorious Weeks, then wet again.
In recent years, unfortunately, the period previously known as the four glorious weeks — usually between late August and early October when the skies are blue, the temperatures are warm (but not too hot) and the mountain and sea views are dazzling – has been replaced by Smoke and Ash.
“Unfortunately, we’re seeing the weather divisions become much less reliable,” Johnson said. “The heat creeps into the spring and the smoke creeps into our most beautiful summer months.”
Climate change has led to more fires around us in British Columbia, Canada, eastern Washington, Oregon and California — and many wind patterns are blowing that smoke towards us, he said.
In addition to our latitude, which is responsible for our long, dark winter nights, our weather is influenced by our proximity to the Pacific Ocean and the Olympic Mountains.
Together they are responsible for most of our weather patterns and quirks, including convergence zone, rain shadow (when mountains prevent rain from getting to the other side), and size of our raindrops, according to Johnson.
The Pacific Ocean, which cools and warms more slowly than air, is a huge moderator of our temperatures, he said. In June, the winds tend to blow from the west and the ocean does not usually begin to warm until the first week of July.
This is why the sixth month has this cold nickname of June and summer should start on July 5th.
The Olympics, meanwhile, influences the amount and type of rain seen in Seattle and the rest of the Puget Sound region.
Temperature gradients and the moisture content of the air are the primary determinants of the characteristics of a raindrop, while wind patterns and topography govern precipitation. These factors can combine to produce a light drizzle, torrential rain, snowstorm and all other variations in precipitation, according to Science.
The Washington coast receives two types of rain: stratiform and convective. Viewed from above, stratiform precipitation looks like a sheet or layer of tiny raindrops
Convective precipitation forms in the most undulating clouds and occurs when air from the Earth’s warmer surface rises, sometimes to great heights. Because the force of the wind pushes upwards, the tiny raindrops aren’t heavy enough to break through on their own, but they eventually clump together, getting “bigger and heavier and heavier.” “until they finally fall,” Johnson said.
Stratiform rain tends to fall evenly over an area, while convective rain may fall heavily in one location but be barely felt a few blocks away.
TYPES OF RAINDROPS
Within these two broader rain types, there are many different types of drops.
It is simply called rain when the drops are about 0.5 mm (0.02 inch) in diameter.
Precipitation is considered drizzle when the drops are smaller than this and virga when the drops are so small that they don’t reach the ground.
Splashes are larger than drizzles with more space between raindrops. A splash doesn’t last long and only measures like a trace in a rain gauge, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Showers start and stop suddenly, or change in intensity rapidly.
TWO TYPES OF RAIN
The two types can sometimes be mixed, Johnson said, but convective rain usually doesn’t head inland through the mountains.
It’s why Seattleites tend to consider drizzle their most common rain and perhaps also why they’ve historically preferred hoods to umbrellas.
TEMPERATURE AND RAIN
When the temperature in the clouds and on the ground are below the freezing point of water, 0 degrees Celsius (32 degrees Fahrenheit), the condensed water droplets turn into ice crystals and fall to the ground as of snow.
Sleet occurs when the temperature in the clouds is warmer than that on the ground. Condensation falls as rain and partially freezes, and precipitation that reaches the ground is a mixture of snow and water. Graupel consists of small, soft hail pellets that form when water droplets freeze on a snow crystal.
Sometimes the rain encounters a layer of freezing air on its way to the ground and solidifies into raindrop-sized granules of ice — or larger — called hailstones. They can scrape the ground even if the ground temperature is above freezing. Hail is a common feature of severe summer thunderstorms.
The coming season, known elsewhere as spring, is a gag gift, said actor Shine. It takes us out of our lairs with a bit of blue sky and the promise of warmth.
We go out, he says, taking off our heavy jackets, baring our legs, raising our squinting eyes to the sun. Maybe we even feel our spirits and hopes rising.
“So, slap! ” he said. “In the second week of April it starts to rain and it doesn’t stop until June.”