When you’ve been stuck inside with several rainy days in a row, you might feel as though the sky will never clear. The sun seems like a memory from a distant past, and the clouds look as if they’re going to hang around forever.
In some of America’s rainiest cities, this feeling can be very familiar.
If you’re looking to get away from the rain, then Seattle is a city to avoid. Known as the Rainy City, the reputation is well-earned — but perhaps not entirely accurate.
While Seattle does see plenty of cloud cover, it gets fewer days of rain than Rochester or Buffalo, New York!
While you can expect to see some rain in Rochester, it’s overall level of precipitation is lower than you might expect. In this guide, we’ll take a look at the American cities that get the most rain, and those that see the largest number of rainy days.
The interesting and diverse topography of America means that some of the results might surprise you!
What Cities In The US Get The Most Rain?
There are two ways to approach this question, and each method will get you different results. First, you can consider the places that get the highest amount of precipitation per year.
These places might not have rain most of the time, but when it comes, there’s a lot of it.
A quick note before we continue: we’ve left Hawaii and Alaska out of our data sets, because they tend to skew the results significantly.
The list of the rainiest cities in America is dominated by these two states if we leave them in.
Although we associate Hawaii and Alaska with opposite ends of the weather spectrum, these states both get a large amount of precipitation due to their location outside the contiguous United States.
The ten cities with the most precipitation overall are:
- Mobile, Alabama
- Pensacola, Florida
- New Orleans, Louisiana
- West Palm Beach, Florida
- Lafayette, Los Angeles
- Baton Rouge, Louisiana
- Miami Florida
- Port Arthur, Texas
- Tallahassee, Florida
- Lake Charles, Louisiana
Some of these results might surprise you, because these are generally cities that we think of as being sunny. But strong storms contribute to heavy and excessive rainfall in a limited time. We’ll cover this in more detail below.
Another way to look at it is which cities have the most days of rainfall overall. These cities might not have the highest level of total precipitation, but you can expect at least one millimeter of rain most days of the year.
The cities with the most rainy days in the US are:
- Rochester, New York (167 days)
- Buffalo, New York (167)
- Portland, Oregon (164)
- Cleveland, Ohio (155)
- Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (151)
- Seattle, Washington (149)
- Columbus, Ohio (139)
- Cincinnati, Ohio (137)
- Miami, Florida (135)
- Detroit, Michigan (135)
There are slightly fewer surprises in this list, although you’ve probably noticed that the number one spot doesn’t go to Seattle. In fact, Seattle is all the way down at number six. We’ll explain why below.
If you wanted to find the rainiest place overall in the US, you’d have to head to Hawaii. Mt. Waialeale, which is found on Kauai, Hawaii, is the rainiest place in the United States. It’s actually one of the rainiest places in the world. Also see: ‘When Is Monsoon Season In Hawaii?‘.
Why Do Rochester And Buffalo Get So Much Rain?
At the top of the list of cities with the most regular rain are Rochester and Buffalo, two cities in New York.
Despite neither being coastal locations, it’s their proximity to large bodies of water that ensure rainy days in both Rochester and Buffalo: they’re both on the edges of the Great Lakes.
The two cities sit next to Lake Ontario and Lake Erie, which bring with them a high amount of precipitation. Cold air travels across the relatively warm lakes, creating clouds.
Although this doesn’t fall as a huge amount of rain, some showers are expected roughly every four days at certain times of the year in Rochester.
As well as frequent light rain, these cities also have a longer rainy season, even compared to Seattle. And over winter, they experience a significant amount of snow, which adds to the overall precipitation levels.
Rochester and Buffalo aren’t just two of the rainiest cities in the United States, they’re also two of the snowiest.
Even on days without showers, Buffalo and Rochester tend to have heavy cloud cover. Along with other rainy cities such as Seattle and Portland, you can expect to see overcast skies on a trip to Buffalo.
What About Seattle?
Seattle might be known as the Rainy City, but this nickname might not be entirely justified. Although it does see a lot of rainy days, it also has a fairly extensive sunny season. Much of this is to do with the unusual geography of Seattle.
Seattle sits on the West Coast, next to the Pacific Ocean. The Pacific Ocean is the largest body of water on Earth, and vapor from the Pacific travels through the air over Seattle.
During winter, moisture is carried on winds blowing from the east, which then hit the Olympic Mountains, becoming clouds. This casts the famous Seattle “rain shadow”, leading to those semi-permanent dark clouds (see also ‘What Is The Orographic Effect? How Does It Change The Weather?‘).
From this, we can see why Seattle has a reputation for rainy days.
But it isn’t all gloom! The rain contributes to one of Seattle’s loveliest features: frequent rainbows. While the damp air may not always be welcome, it can have some exceptional results.
The moisture is also why Washington has so many lush and green areas.
However, things look a little different in summer. The wind blowing from the west brings less moisture with it, and Seattle sees a drier season. Meanwhile, in places such as Buffalo and Rochester, the cloud cover remains fairly consistent, even over summer.
In fact, Seattle ranks surprisingly low on the list of US cities with the highest total amount of precipitation. And there’s a slightly surprising reason for this: those mountains that cause all those clouds actually prevent rainfall overall.
If the Olympic mountains weren’t there, then Seattle could probably expect a much higher level of precipitation. They prevent some of the moisture carried from the ocean reaching Seattle at all.
Washington as a state has an incredibly variable topography, so you can expect to find different weather patterns at different elevations.
For example, Yakima, Washington, experiences on average only 9 inches of rain per year. It also gets 18 inches of snow. So, it’s very different from same-state Seattle!
Why Famously Sunny Cities Are Actually Quite Wet?
When you think of a trip to Miami, you probably imagine yourself sitting in the sunshine, enjoying the beach. Because of this, it can be difficult to understand how Miami ranks so high on the rainy city chart.
But if you live in Miami, or elsewhere in Florida, you’re unlikely to be confused.
Miami, plus other southern cities, have the opposite rainfall experience to places such as Seattle and Rochester. While these northern cities get persistent rain in winter, their summers tend to be relatively dry.
In Miami, a drizzly but predominantly dry winter turns into long, hot summers with heavy thunderstorms.
So, while you can enjoy entire vacations in Miami without ever seeing a drop of rain, several weeks of Seattle showers can fall over Miami in just a few days.
The subtropical climate of Miami is the reason for this heavy rainfall. Florida sits close to the tropics, and is surrounded by water on nearly all sides.
Hot air is blown across the Atlantic Ocean from Africa, which begins to precipitate as it reaches the Florida coast.
The warm Florida weather is also the perfect breeding ground for extreme weather conditions, such as hurricanes. The state has the three things you need for thunderstorms: moist air, an unstable atmosphere, and sources of air lift. Also see: ‘When Is Hurricane Season in Florida‘.
The surrounding waters of Florida get hot, warming the air, which is then carried and lifted by the sea breeze.
When these storms hit, they contribute a large amount to the overall precipitation level, in very little time. Over winter, high-pressure systems prevent the storms from hitting the coast, and Miami experiences significantly less rainfall.
Something similar is also happening along the coast at Mobile, Alabama. Mobile is situated right next to the Gulf of Mexico, where it experiences the heated and moist air that causes problems in Miami.
Mobile also experiences wet winters, which is why it tends to have the highest amount of precipitation in the contiguous United States.
How The Great Lakes Affect The Weather?
Seattle and Miami can blame much of their rainfall on the presence of the ocean, which brings moist air to the cities. However, Cleveland, Columbus, and Cincinnati all rank highly on the list of the rainiest cities.
And these are all in the distinctly inland state of Ohio.
Like Rochester and Buffalo, Cleveland, Columbus, and Cincinnati can blame the rain on the Great Lakes. The Great Lakes are the largest freshwater lake system in the world, so they obviously contain a lot of moisture.
While they might not have as much water as the ocean, there’s still plenty to be picked up by the wind, and sent to Ohio.
Again, the cold winds coming down from Canada are responsible for a lot of the cloud cover and resulting rain. These cold winds come into contact with the warmer waters of the lakes, which results in a build up of clouds.
This is then able to travel south, and fall as rain on Cleveland, Columbus, and Cincinnati.
In Winter, these cities can also see significant amounts of snow. The cold winds blowing south from the Arctic freeze the moisture into snow, adding to the general levels of precipitation.
There are many cities in the northeast and northwest of the country that see high levels of cloud cover, but they can’t all make our list.
However, these cities don’t get the same incredible storms that bring such increased levels of rain, which is why they have a lower overall total than places such as Mobile.
If you want to experience the driest weather in America, you’ll need to head away from large bodies of water. Las Vegas is the driest city in America, both in rainfall and rainy days.
And the driest place in the US overall is Death Valley. It can experience less than 2.2 inches of rainfall in a year.
Although these cities can seem gloomy, there are some advantages to the cloud cover! Consistent levels of precipitation, rather than widely diverging seasons, bring the lush green landscapes that characterize so many of these cities.
And while you might not want to plan a trip to Rochester without a raincoat, It doesn’t mean you’re guaranteed showers. Even America’s rainiest cities do see the sun…occasionally!
If you liked this article, you might enjoy our post on ‘The Windiest Cities In The US‘.
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