There is a cartoon that has been making the rounds in online Seattle circles lately.
The cartoon is here, and I include this scaled-down version simply for discussion purposes:
Now, I like the cartoon. It’s funny. I laughed. It’s up there with my other favorite Seattle weather saying:
“April showers bring May showers.”
Creative exaggeration is a staple of humor, and it is to be appreciated.
While my right brain had a good laugh at the illustration, my left brain kicked into gear.
“Sure, it’s cloudy here a lot, but just how exaggerated IS this cartoon?”, I wondered.
Well, after an afternoon of research, I have the answer.
First, the cartoon does deserve some props. It does make a valid comparative point.
I have learned that Seattle is, indeed, the least sunny major city in the continental United States. We have more clouds and more days of rain than any other city in the lower 48 (not counting smaller places like Forks and Aberdeen).
But, what exactly does “least amount” mean?
“Least” by double the average? Triple?
These are very important considerations as getting 5% less sunshine and 90% less sunshine makes a world of difference. The cartoon says that Seattle gets two seconds of sunshine each year, and I know that it was meant to be silly, but just HOW silly you probably underestimated.
The fact of the matter is that Seattle gets significantly more than two seconds of sunlight per year. We actually get 2,174 (two thousand one hundred seventy four) hours. Put into “12 hour daytime” terms, this is 175 days of clear, unobstructed sunshine. Each and every year.
So, how does this compare to the rest of the USA?
New York City gets 2,600 hours of sunshine per year, which is 17% more than Seattle receives;
Portland gets 2,347 hours, which is 8% more than Seattle;
Chicago gets 2,511 hours, 14% more;
Buffalo gets 2,204 hours, 1% more;
Boston gets 2,638 hours, 18% more;
Miami gets 3,154 hours, 31% more;
Los Angeles gets 3,265 hours, 35% more;
So, while Seattle is certainly cloudy IN RELATION to most other U.S. cities, it’s not overwhelmingly so. It’s only about 1/5th more gloomy than our largest city, New York.
But, what about the rest of the world?
This is where things get interesting, and the myth of Seattle’s unique doom and gloom really begins to get shattered.
Check this out:
London gets only 1,461 hours of sunshine each year. This is a full 33% LESS than Seattle;
Paris gets 1,630 hours, 26% less.
Berlin receives 1,625 hours, 26% less.
Amsterdam 1,601 hours, 27% less.
That’s only Europe, though, how about the other side of the world?
Here again, Seattle does “well”.
Tokyo gets only 1,847 hours of sunlight each year, which is a full 15% less than Seattle, and Seoul, Korea gets 2,114, which is about on par with us.
So, what does all of this mean?
It means that, while Seattle is dim by United States standards, it is actually quite bright by international standards. The USA as a whole is a very bright nation, and even though Seattle is the “dimmest of the brightest”, it’s still much brighter than most of the rest of the industrialized world.
“But, if that’s true, why do Seattle people complain about the weather more than all of those other cities?”
The answer is fairly simple.
Most Seattleites moved here from somewhere else in the country, and as we’ve already established, Seattle is the dimmest place in a fairly bright nation. This being the case, it is dim in relation to where most transplants moved from. In addition, Seattle is an overwhelmingly white, affluent city. Such a demographic is not known for it’s graceful tolerance of discomfort.
For crying out loud, we’re the city that banned the term “brown paper bag” because we found it offensive. Can you imagine how offended we get when it drizzles on our ultimate frisbee tournament? It’s like the Holocaust, only worse.
No, we’re not a people accustomed to hardship of any kind. If you’ve ever read “The Princess and the Pea”, then you’ve read a story about a typical Seattle transplant.
Here is another question that I often hear: “Why do people who don’t like the clouds move to Seattle? ”
After much consideration, literally years worth, this is one that I have yet to find the answer to. I mean, call me crazy, but if clouds made me depressed, I’d move, you know, anywhere else.
Such is the nature of the affluent transplant, though. They come anyway. Perhaps they think they’re so special that the weather will change once they get here. Maybe they just like to complain, and the Seattle weather gives them 7 months out of the year to do that, without requiring them to endure any real hardship.
These are just theories. I really don’t know.
What I do know, is that the people who genuinely whine and moan about the gloom in Seattle would never make it in Europe or Japan. If they think it’s bad here, they would be completely overwhelmed in those other locales.
Update: Last, but not least, allow me to share my own Seattle weather cartoon which, while still exaggerated, is actually far more accurate:
For more Seattle Weather mythbusting: