Is Seattle really the gloomiest city in America? Psychological data debunk finding. | KNKX

Is Seattle really the gloomiest city in America? Psychological data debunk finding.

Jan 3, 2020

A recent study named Seattle the No. 1 "gloomiest place in America." The website Bestplaces.net, which ranks locations on all kinds of qualities, created a "gloom index" for the largest cities in the nation, based on weather data during the darkest months of the year.

The index ranked the cities by looking at percentage of cloud cover, hours of daylight and days with precipitation.

Seattle came in first, followed by Portland, Oregon, and Buffalo, New York. But KNKX weather expert Cliff Mass says it doesn’t ring true. And he says this kind of "study" is far from scientific.

“This is not what I would call a peer reviewed scientific study," he said. "It only considered the winter. And it just considered a few weather-related variables."

He says if you take a broader view of what is meant by gloomy, you can find many studies that include psychological data to see how weather affects mood. This literature paints a much more complex picture, acknowledging, for example, that some people get depressed when it’s too sunny or humid and that others really perk up or feel soothed by rain. One study found the Southeastern U.S. to be the gloomiest, based on psychological profiles.

“Another one used tweets and looked at how many happy tweets there were. And in fact, we are in the middle range,” Mass said. “The saddest place is again in the Southeast United States.”

He says that may be due to the lack of greenery, especially compared to the Northwest, where even in the cloudiest months, we are surrounded by relatively lush vegetation.

“If you really examine the weather here, you find that we only have a few months that are really overwhelmingly cloudy," Mass said. "And that’s generally November through February.”

Even then, Mass says, there are lots of "sun breaks," or places in the region where Seattleites can escape temporary gloominess with a quick drive out to the Olympic peninsula or up into the mountains.

And there’s always Seattle’s summer months to look forward to. Mass says Seattle has "the best weather in the country" and it makes up for a lot.

“We have beautiful temperatures in the mid-70s, low humidity, no bugs and the days are long,” Mass said. “So we live in the happiest place, during the summertime.”

Weather with Cliff Mass airs at 9:02 a.m. Friday, right after BirdNote, and twice on Friday afternoons during All Things Considered. The feature is hosted by KNKX environment reporter Bellamy Pailthorp. Cliff Mass is a University of Washington professor of atmospheric sciences, a renowned Seattle weather prognosticator, and a popular weather blogger. You can also subscribe to podcasts of Weather with Cliff Mass shows, via iTunes or Google Play.