There are some places where rain is rain and the number of seasons is known.
But Western Washington isn’t one of them.
The Seattle area has so many different kinds of precipitation — drizzle, mist, showers, virga — that residents have taken to making up their names for it. Is “liquid sunshine” even used anywhere else? And it has, too, an apparently unknowable number of seasons.
Whalen described the drizzle as a slow and steady rain that can last for days but “doesn’t ruin your hair, or your outfit, or your day. It just sticks around, annoying and unassuming. And so you adapt because it’s just a drizzle.”
Seattle-born comedian Derek Sheen said Seattle’s seasons are “like a prank show.” His understanding of them is tied to the state of one’s fleece, including “have a new fleece” and “need a new fleece.”
In a broad sense, we really have only two seasons, wet and dry, said Logan Johnson, meteorologist in charge at the National Weather Service in Seattle.
Calendar people, however, claim there are four.
And residents of the Puget Sound region just can’t seem to agree.
Some claim that rather than 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 and then Wet again.
In recent years, unfortunately, the period previously known as Four Glorious Weeks — usually sometime between late August and early October when the skies are blue, the temperatures are warm (but not too hot) and the mountain and marine views dazzle — has been replaced by Smoke and Ash.
“Unfortunately, we’re seeing the divisions in weather become a lot less reliable,” said Johnson. “Heat is intruding into spring and smoke is intruding into our nicest summer months.”
Climate change has led to more fires around us in British Columbia, Canada, Eastern Washington, Oregon and California — and many wind patterns blow that smoke toward 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 Olympic Mountains.
Together, they are responsible for most of our weather patterns and quirks, including the convergence zone, rain shadow (when the mountains block the rain from getting to the other side of them) and the size of our raindrops, according to Johnson.
The Pacific Ocean, which cools down and heats up more slowly than the air, is a huge moderator of our temperatures, he said. In June, the winds tend to be blowing out of the west and the ocean doesn’t usually begin to warm up until the first week of July.
That’s why the sixth month has that chilly Juneuary nickname and summer is said to begin July 5.
The Olympics, meanwhile, influence the amount and kind of rain seen in Seattle and the rest of the Puget Sound region.
Temperature gradients and air moisture content are the main determinants of a raindrop’s characteristics while wind patterns and topography govern rainfall. These factors can combine to produce a light drizzle, a torrential rainfall, a snowstorm and every other variation of precipitation, according to Sciencing.
The Washington coast gets two types of rain: stratiform and convective. From the air, stratiform precipitation looks like a sheet or a layer of tiny raindrops.
Convection precipitation is formed in the more billowy clouds and occurs when air from the warmer surface of the Earth rises, sometimes to great heights. Because the force of the wind is pushing upward, tiny raindrops are not heavy enough to break through on their own, but they eventually clump together, getting “bigger and bigger and heavier and heavier” until finally they do fall, Johnson said.
Stratiform rain tends to fall evenly across a region, while convection rain can fall heavily in one place but be barely felt just blocks away.
TYPES OF RAIN DROPS
Within those two broader types of rain, there are many different types of drops.
It’s known simply as rain when the drops are about 0.5 mm (0.02 inches) in diameter.
Precipitation counts as drizzle when the drops are smaller than that and virga when the drops are so small they don’t reach the ground.
Sprinkles are larger than drizzles with more space between the raindrops. A sprinkle does not last long and measures only as a trace in a rain gauge, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Showers start and stop suddenly, or change intensity quickly.
TWO TYPES OF RAIN
The two types can sometimes be mixed together, Johnson said, but convection rain usually doesn’t make its way inland across the mountains.
That’s why Seattleites tend to think of drizzle as their most common rain and perhaps also why they’ve historically preferred hoods to umbrellas.
TEMPERATURE AND RAIN
When both the temperature in the clouds and that on the ground are below the freezing point of water, 0 degrees Celsius (32 degrees Fahrenheit), condensed water droplets become ice crystals and fall to the ground as snow.
Sleet occurs when the temperature in the clouds is warmer than that on the ground. Condensation falls as rain and partially freezes, and the precipitation that reaches the ground is a mixture of snow and water. Graupel consists of soft, small pellets of hail that form when water droplets freeze over a crystal of snow.
Sometimes rain encounters a layer of freezing air on its way to the ground and solidifies into raindrop-sized — or larger — ice pellets known as hailstones. They can pelt the ground even if the ground temperature is above freezing. Hail is a common feature of severe summer thunderstorms.
The upcoming season, known elsewhere as spring, is a gag gift, said comedian Sheen. It lures us out of our lairs with a bit of blue sky and the promise of warmth.
We go outside, he said, shedding our heavy jackets, baring our legs, lifting our squinty eyes to the sun. Maybe we even feel our spirits and hopes rise.
“Then smack!” he said. ” In the second week of April it starts raining and it doesn’t stop till June.”