Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Dreary Weather

** Update: a companion blog post with the number of Picture Perfect Days per year can be found here: **

How do you define dreary weather? Is it the amount of rain/snow? How about the frequency of precipitation? Many people feel that cloudy weather is dreary. Of course dreary does not have a scientific definition so some arbitrary measure must be developed.

In previous posts, I have looked at total rainfall, number of wet days, and cloud cover independently of one another. Now seems like a good time to combine these variables to come up with a single composite value.


Three different variables are used in this analysis to come up with Dreary Index – total annual precipitation, number of days per year with measurable precipitation, and average annual cloud coverage. An inverses distance weighted surfacing technique was used to generate a gridded data set for the entire U.S. for each of the three variables. 

Grid cells are 25,000 meters on a side and a total of just over 2,500,000 grid cells for the entire U.S. are created. For each data set, the 250,000 grid cells with the lowest raw values are assigned a rank of 1, the next highest 250,000 grid cells are assigned a rank of 2, and so on. This creates 10 categories with an equal number of members. The procedure is then repeated for the other data sets. Afterward, there are three ranked data layers that each contain values of 1 to 10.

Since the grid cells for the different layers occupy the same geographical space, a raster addition calculation may be performed. In the absence of literature describing a dreariness methodology, I give equal weighting to all three categories. The variables are described in greater detail below.

Variable 1: Total annual precipitation. This was generated directly from the National Climate Data Center's (NCDC) published normal values for the 1981-2010 climate normal period. A total of 8,526 stations were used in this analysis.

Variable 2: Days per year with measurable precipitation. This was calculated from Global Climate Historical Network (GHCN) daily climate data. All days between 1981 and 2010 for the 1,751 "first order" stations in the U.S. were evaluated on whether or not measurable precipitation was observed. Stations with 15 or more complete years of data were utilized. A total of 952 stations met this criteria.

Variable 3: Annual cloud coverage. This data were obtained by analyzing 31 years of GHCN daily climate data (1966-1996) that contain entries for daily cloud coverage. A much smaller number of stations had a sufficiently robust (10 or more years) level of data coverage to use in the analysis. A total of 221 stations met the minimum data criteria. Because of the small number of stations, the gridded data are more generalized than for either Variable 1 or Variable 2.


Since the values for each data set are from 1 to 10, the range of values from adding them all together are 3 to 30. Only a few places received a maximum dreariness index score of 30. They include: northwest Washington state, southeast Alaska, and windward Hawai'i. What might surprise many people are the high scores for places from West Virginia through Maine. Did you expect that?

What was not a surprise was the low values for the Desert Southwest. Several areas in Arizona, Nevada, and California had a score of 3 – the lowest value possible. Both Las Vegas and Phoenix achieved this "perfect" score.

Figure 1. Combined Dreariness Index. Map made from adding the ranked values displayed in Figures 2, 3, and 4. Same map as the one at the top of the post except all U.S. cities with a population of 250,000 people are shown.

Figure 2. Total annual precipitation ranking using data from the National Climate Data Center (NCDC). (n=8,526)

Figure 3. Total annual days with measurable precipitation ranking using data from the Global Historical Climate Network (GHCN). (n=952)

Figure 4. Total annual cloud coverage ranking using data from the Global Historical Climate Network (GHCN). (n=221)

List of Cities:

There are 73 cities in the U.S. with over 250,000 people according to the 2010 U.S. Census. This bar chart contains the Dreary Index value for all 73 cities. Each bar is color coded to show the relative contribution of total precipitation, days with measurable precipitation, and cloudiness. If you thought that Seattle and Portland would come out on top, you were only half correct. Buffalo and Seattle tied with a score of 27. Right behind them were Pittsburgh and Portland. By definition, the average score for the entire U.S. is 16.5. The city that is closest to average is Omaha, Nebraska. 

Figure 5. Dreary Index score for all cities in the U.S. with at least 250,000 people as of the 2010 Census.

CityStatePopulationPrecipitationWet DaysCloudinessDreary Index
Fort WayneIN253,69179824
New YorkNY8,175,13398724
New OrleansLA343,829107522
Saint LouisMO319,29487621
Virginia BeachVA437,99487621
Saint PaulMN285,06867720
Kansas CityMO459,78774415
San AntonioTX1,327,40763615
Corpus ChristiTX305,21563514
Oklahoma CityOK579,99973313
Fort WorthTX741,20673313
Colorado SpringsCO416,42754312
San FranciscoCA805,2355229
San JoseCA945,9424228
Los AngelesCA3,792,6214127
Long BeachCA462,2573126
Santa AnaCA324,5283126
San DiegoCA1,307,4022136
El PasoTX649,1212114
Las VegasNV583,7561113


This is right about the time where people in the Northeast are getting defensive. How can Buffalo be as dreary as Seattle or how can Pittsburgh be as dreary as Portland? Of course this methodology is completely arbitrary and far from perfect, but it is a start. Also keep in mind that neither temperature, wind, nor solar energy were used in the calculation. In my mind, a dreary day is wet and gray – therefore, this analysis only used variables that reflect those characteristics.

Alaska Map:

Some readers have asked about Alaska. Here is the map centered on Alaska.

Figure 6. Dreary Index map from Figure 1; but centered on Alaska.


  1. Can you produce this for the rest of the world, especially for notoriously dreary London? I'd love to see how it stacks up. I personally think it's not as bad as people make it out to be.

    1. Kent, in theory I could but the amount of processing time would be prohibitive. What I can do is look at 20 or 30 global cities and see how they would rate were they in the U.S.

    2. You forget that "dreary" also means lonely, godforsaken, desolate, which could apply to more than overcast days as it could relate to hot, dry, unbearable sun when overcast days are a blessing.

    3. Agreed. I personally prefer variety in my weather/climate. When I visit a desert location (e.g., Las Vegas) the cloudy days are by far the most enjoyable.

    4. Check out London on

    5. Great work. But I question conclusion Without reflecting sunshine hours. Many northeast cities and Florida get 500 to 1000 hours of more sunshine. In the fall and winter than Seattle or Portland

  2. Here in Florida the rain often just means refreshing coolness and refreshing often comes down all at once in buckets that empty in 10 minutes. Add temperature when showing Florida. Rain here means something more than dreary. It means a momentary cool down. We do get a few weeks of cold though. lol I love Washington and weather is part of your beauty. You have as you know some of the most amazing forest towns like Edmonds. That overcast may be something to brag about if the tradeoff is the unbelievable beauty of that fabulous state that you live in. You are upscale individualists and colorful and talented and that may be because of the dreary weather. You make your own sunshine! ;)

  3. Hi Brian, I love this work. Any chance you could come up with a number for a single small community? Ketchikan, Alaska? The rain and dreariness capital of Alaska. Makes Seattle look positively sunny! Dave Kiffer, Ketchikan Alaska

    1. Thanks for the question. In the text of the blog I identified cities over 250,000 only for ease of reading. However, data exists for the entire country. It turns out that the entire area from Prince William Sound to Annette Island (plus Kodiak Island) has a perfect score of 30. Since all of Alaska is in the top 10% for cloudiness and Ketchikan is the rainiest cities (5,000+ people) in the U.S. and in the top 5 for most days with rain, they might be at the very top of the list.

    2. Thanks, Brian!. And yet we still live here! Go figure. Dave Kiffer

  4. I was born in a 3, grew up in a 4, lived in a 22, live now in a 21 but work in a 24. One flaw to the system, provides the following: Synonyms
    1. gloomy, dismal, drear, cheerless, depressing, comfortless. 2. tedious, monotonous, wearisome, tiresome.
    1. cheerful. 2. interesting.

    Even with all the snow this winter, Boston, where I work, is far more Cheerful and Interesting, than El Paso TX, near where I grew up.

  5. I was born in a 3, grew up in a 4, lived in a 22, live now in a 21 but work in a 24. One flaw to the system, provides the following: Synonyms
    1. gloomy, dismal, drear, cheerless, depressing, comfortless. 2. tedious, monotonous, wearisome, tiresome.
    1. cheerful. 2. interesting.

    Even with all the snow this winter, Boston, where I work, is far more Cheerful and Interesting, than El Paso TX, near where I grew up.

  6. I grew up in Maryland and now live in Seattle. I hated summer growing up- miserably hot and humid. And the 2 weeks each summer we spent in Kansas visiting relatives- even more blazing heat. When I moved to Seattle I couldn't believe that summer could be so incredibly nice. And while the rain and dark from late Oct-Feb can be difficult- it's just a few months and the holidays help brighten a lot of the time. And as of late, so do the Seahawks. You may call it dreary, but many of us start to miss the clouds and rain by late summer. And it's green here- so even flying in through the clouds and rain people are always commenting on how green it is even in January. So gloomy and dismal a relative in my mind. When I look out the window of a plane when landing and see the heat rising from the ground and land parched, or see that it's bitter cold- I am grateful to live in Seattle.

  7. Very interesting analysis, Brian. If anything, the scores underestimate dreariness. For instance, as you note, eastern Pennsylvania has notably less cloud cover than western PA. Having lived in both places, I can attest that western PA is far more dreary. A score of 26 for Pittsburgh versus 23 for Philadelphia doesn't seem like a sufficient indicator. Maybe dreariness needs to be a log function.

    On another note, the people in western PA are generally very friendly, which makes the weather more bearable.

  8. You should probably consider smog as parallel to rain for dreariness. El Paso is the most depressing place I know when the haze from Mexico settles over it (and I live near Seattle...).

  9. Would you consider sharing the raw data for this (and/or where you pulled it from?) I'd love to make a derived version for my own planning purposes!

    1. Sure Eric. The annual precipitation totals are from the National Climate Data Center's list of 1981-2010 climate normals. The cloudiness and days with precipitation were calculated (by me) from daily summaries of the Global Historical Climatology Network (GHCN). I have all the data in spreadsheet for and in ArcGIS grid form. I am happy to share it with whomever might be interested.

  10. Anonymous about El Paso smog ... most of the year it is quite windy and there isn't much smog. We do get the smog inversions in the winter in the low areas inside the mountain range bowls, due to wood fires on both sides of the border and burning tires in the Juarez dump (which they are trying to get stopped). However, I heard that El Paso air quality was most impacted by the many miles of unpaved roads in the area, so always a lot of particulates (very small maybe) in the air. Those are on the US side, in El Paso County. Other than that, I think El Paso has it pretty good. Not as oppressively hot as Phoenix or Las Vegas, and once the sun starts to go down on a summer evening, there is a nice 10-15 degree temperature drop.

    1. Many years ago I drove through El Paso and the smog was quite dense. I was not aware of the local situation that enhances the smog.

    2. I live in Las Cruces, NM and I can relate. our weather here is very similar to El Paso seeing as we're only about 40 miles apart. it's usually 5-10 degrees cooler here for some reason. we get El Paso news here so I see your weather forecast every day and for the most part it's close to the same ...

  11. "How can Buffalo be as dreary as Seattle or how can Pittsburgh be as dreary as Portland?"

    Easy--you ever been to Seattle or Portland in the summer? ;)

    1. Actually, I have been to Seattle in the Summer. In the case of Buffalo, it is one of the cloudiest cities in the country, averages more rainfall than Seattle, and has about the same number of "wet" days. That's just how the numbers came out. It was nothing personal.

  12. How do you ensure that days are not double or triple counted? Days with precipitation or snow are cloudy by definition. Many days contain both rain and snow.

    1. Yes, there is overlap between the categories; but how would one extricate the numbers? A city can be very cloudy but have relatively low precipitation totals (e.g., my hometown of Anchorage). You can also have places with low cloud cover that receive lots of rainfall in heavy, infrequent thunderstorms. I suppose the opposite of the Dreary Index would be to look at days that are cloudless, and have no rain. But that leaves out annual precipitation. There are an infinite number of possible combinations. Since my Index uses decile rankings (1 to 10), it captures the relative magnitude of the three variables without worrying about the actual values. As an instrument to start a discussion, it seems to have done just that. :) Thanks for the comment.

  13. Hi Brian,

    I'm a writer for Thrillist Travel. With your permission, we would love to use your graphics above in an article about your findings. Of course, all images used would be credited to you with a link to your blog. Hope to hear from you soon, as we're hoping to publish as soon as possible.

    Many thanks,

    1. Hi Chloe. Yes, feel free to pull the graphics for a story. The only stipulation is that an online story provides a link back to the blog. Send me an email at: - Brian

  14. this all depends on your definition of miserable. to me miserable is sunny 90+ degrees outside. I love rain and cloudy skies, I love cold and snowy even more. my ideal day would be overcast about 25 degrees out and snowing with 8-10 inches on the ground. though I prefer below freezing, anywhere up to 80 degrees is getting a little too hot for me. 90+ is completely miserable in my opinion, and I know there's a difference between dry heat and humid heat. I lived in Florida for about 5 years. Jacksonville, Pensacola, and mostly Key West, and the weather down in Florida was horrible. it didn't get quite as hot as it does where I live now, but the humidity was almost unbearable at times. I live in southern New Mexico now, and it gets really hot here in the summer and even though it's dry heat, it's still hot and miserable. I grew up in Ft.Worth Texas, and that has the worst of both worlds. it's both hot and humid there in the summer. I wish I could move to a place that has 9 months of winter and 3 months of fall. that would be ideal for me ...

    1. Come up here to Alaska. No worries about the heat. When we went on a trip to Texas, we had to have a talk with our kids (elementary school age) about this unusual liquid that will develop on their bodies – sweat.

    2. You should move to upstate ny then...plenty of rotten cold , cloudy days, lots of miserable snow, and rain in the summer

    3. For what it's worth, I live about 30 miles away from where the Index has a perfect score of 30.

  15. I am surprised not to see Spokane, Washington on that list. I lived there close to twenty years ago and there was one whole year it was so cloudy many plants never grew to their normal size. Unbelievable. I grew up in SF, CA (fog) and never saw anything like it..

    1. Spokane didn't make the list due to population. At the 2010 Census, they had 208,916 people. Their "score" for this analysis was actually 19. That's above average but far less than areas west of the Cascades.

  16. ...probably educated in California.

  17. Dreary means bleak, lifeless and depressing. Guess what: Rain = life. Cloud cover = cool and pleasant. Excessive sunshine without rain means heat, drought, and death. The very thing that gives you life, that you're made of, that falls from the sky by miraculous good fortune, you call dreary. Your schema infers that sunshine equates to happiness. I guess they'll find your bleached skeleton in a desert, where it's dry and lifeless, where it never rains, where happiness reigns.

    You are promoting allowing external circumstances to control one's inner state. Anyone who does this is not attuned to what life really is. "Ooh, it's raining, it's DREARY!" Destructive judgment, opinion, illusion.

    Just another example of an attention hounding word that shows up in virtually every article on

    1. Hi Mark. Actually, I quite prefer areas that are cooler, cloudier, and wetter. In fact, I live about 30 miles from where the Dreary Index score is the highest in the Nation. I could never live in the desert. Too boring. As for the name of the Index, it came about after a simple post showing that nearly half of the country gets more rain than Seattle. A bunch of people came unglued and said that Seattle was very dreary due to the clouds and frequency of rainfall. That is the origin of the name "Dreary Index."

    2. So you use it, playing on the emotions and people's perceived dreariness. Promoting negative feelings. Good work.

  18. For years I have been using to do research on weather stats. Somebody asked about London. All the U.S. states and cities and many other countries info. are found on here. Excellent resource. Hey, Brian, good report thanks.

  19. Brian, why not include Syracuse, NY in the results? They get way more snow than Buffalo, and I heard they are cloudier than Seattle.

    1. Scott, the list only includes cities with 250,000+ people. At the 2010 Census, Syracuse had 145,710 people. That being said, I have a list with the values for all cities. As it turns out, Syracuse has the same score (27) as Buffalo. The stations on the Tug Hill Plateau scored 28s and 29s!

  20. drear·y dull, bleak, and lifeless; depressing
    Some of us do not equate cloudy and/or rainy with dreary. Growing up in Portland, OR, I thought the clouds (and the tall Douglas fir trees) protected us from the sun. Attending school in San Francisco, I LOVED the fog! Of the cities on this list that I have lived in or visited, I don't think of any of them as being "dreary." Cloudy or rainy, perhaps, but not dreary. Now I live in Syracuse, NY. The clouds and maple trees protect us from the sun!

  21. Bakersfield is one of the most polluted cities in the US. I'll take a cleansing rain over unrelenting smog any day.

  22. this was nice :) nice to read

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  24. Enjoy your blog.Love the desert..trapped in Pittsburgh