With a total area of 83.9 square miles, Seattle lies in the geographical co-ordinates of 47.37 North latitude and 122.20 West longitude. It is the northernmost city with at least 500,000 people in the United States. The topography of Seattle is hilly. Seattle lies on seven hills including Capitol Hill, First Hill, West Seattle, Beacon Hill, Magnolia, Denny Hill and Queen Anne. The Kitsap and the Olympic peninsulas along with the Olympic mountains lie to the west of Puget Sound, while the Cascade Range and Lake Sammamish lie to the east of Lake Washington. The lush green forests and the numerous water bodies have provided livelihood for many hunting and gathering communities. Seattle has over of parkland.
Seattle is located between the saltwater Puget Sound (an arm of the Pacific Ocean) to the west and Lake Washington to the east. The city's chief harbor, Elliott Bay, is part of Puget Sound, which makes the city an oceanic port. To the west, beyond Puget Sound, are the Kitsap Peninsula and Olympic Mountains on the Olympic Peninsula; to the east, beyond Lake Washington and the eastside suburbs, are Lake Sammamish and the Cascade Range. Lake Washington's waters flow to Puget Sound through the Lake Washington Ship Canal (consisting of two man-made canals, Lake Union, and the Hiram M. Chittenden Locks at Salmon Bay, ending in Shilshole Bay on Puget Sound).
The sea, rivers, forests, lakes, and fields surrounding Seattle were once rich enough to support one of the world's few sedentary hunter-gatherer societies. The surrounding area lends itself well to sailing, skiing, bicycling, camping, and hiking year-round.
The city itself is hilly, though not uniformly so. Like Rome, the city is said to lie on seven hills; the lists vary, but typically include Capitol Hill, First Hill, West Seattle, Beacon Hill, Queen Anne, Magnolia, and the former Denny Hill. The Wallingford, Mount Baker, and Crown Hill neighborhoods are technically located on hills as well. Many of the hilliest areas are near the city center, with Capitol Hill, First Hill, and Beacon Hill collectively constituting something of a ridge along an isthmus between Elliott Bay and Lake Washington. The break in the ridge between First Hill and Beacon Hill is man-made, the result of two of the many regrading projects that reshaped the topography of the city center. The topography of the city center was also changed by the construction of a seawall and the artificial Harbor Island (completed 1909) at the mouth of the city's industrial Duwamish Waterway, the terminus of the Green River. The highest point within city limits is at High Point in West Seattle, which is roughly located near 35th Ave SW and SW Myrtle St. Other notable hills include Crown Hill, View Ridge/Wedgwood/Bryant, Maple Leaf, Phinney Ridge, Mt. Baker Ridge and Highlands/Carkeek/Bitterlake.
Due to its location in the Pacific Ring of Fire, Seattle is in a major earthquake zone. On February 28, 2001, the magnitude 6.8 Nisqually earthquake did significant architectural damage, especially in the Pioneer Square area (built on reclaimed land, as are the Industrial District and part of the city center), but caused no fatalities.
Other strong quakes occurred on January 26, 1700 (estimated at 9 magnitude), December 14, 1872 (7.3 or 7.4), April 13, 1949 (7.1), and April 29, 1965 (6.5). The 1965 quake caused three deaths in Seattle directly, and one more by heart failure. Although the Seattle Fault passes just south of the city center, neither it nor the Cascadia subduction zone has caused an earthquake since the city's founding. The Cascadia subduction zone poses the threat of an earthquake of magnitude 9.0 or greater, capable of seriously damaging the city and collapsing many buildings, especially in zones built on fill.
According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has a total area of, of which is land and water (41.16% of the total area).
Seattle's climate is usually described as oceanic or temperate marine, with cool, wet winters and warm, relatively dry summers. Like much of the Pacific Northwest, according to the Köppen climate classification it falls within a cool/mild wet winter, and dry-summer subtropical zone (Csb), with "cool"-summer Mediterranean characteristics.
Other climate classification systems, such as Trewartha, place it firmly in the Oceanic zone (Do), like much of Western Europe.
Temperature extremes are moderated by the adjacent Puget Sound, greater Pacific Ocean, and Lake Washington. The region is largely denied Pacific storms by the Olympic Mountains and Arctic air by the Cascade Range. Despite being on the margin of the rain shadow of the Olympic Mountains, the city has a misleading reputation for frequent rain.
This reputation stems from the frequency of light precipitation in the fall, winter, and spring. In an average year, at least of precipitation falls on 150 days, more than Boston (120 days), New York (113 days), Washington, D.C. (111 days), or Atlanta (107 days). It is cloudy 201 days out of the year and partly cloudy 93 days. The location of official weather and climatic records, the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, is located about 19 km (12 miles) south of downtown in the city of SeaTac, and records more cloudy days and fewer partly cloudy days per year. For this reason, official weather and climatic records may not accurately reflect the weather and climate conditions of the city proper.
At, the city receives less total precipitation annually than Boston, New York, Washington, D.C., Atlanta, and most cities on the Eastern Seaboard of the U.S. and almost everywhere east of the Mississippi River. Due to local variations in microclimate, Seattle proper also receives significantly less precipitation than some other locations west of the Cascades. Around to the west, the Hoh Rain Forest in Olympic National Park on the western flank of the Olympic Mountains receives an annual average precipitation of . Sixty miles to the south of Seattle, the state capital Olympia, which is out of the Olympic Mountains' rain shadow, receives an annual average precipitation of . The suburb of Bremerton, about to the west of downtown Seattle, receives of precipitation annually.
Statistics show, however, that the city is becoming wetter: the current annual rainfall average of 952 millimeters reflects an increase of 11 mm from the 1971–2000 average precipitation and the 1981–2010 average precipitation. Seattle receives the largest amount of rainfall of any U.S. city of more than 250,000 people in November, and is in the top 10 through winter, but is in the lowest tier of all cities from June to September. Seattle is in the top 5 rainiest major U.S. cities by number of precipitation days, and it receives among the least amount of annual sunlight of all major cities in the lower 48 states, with cities in the Northeast, Ohio and Michigan receiving about the same amount annually. Thunderstorms are rare, as the city reports thunder on just seven days per year. By comparison, Fort Myers, Florida reports thunder on 93 days per year, Kansas City on 52, and New York City on 25. However, Seattle was not listed in a study that revealed the 10 rainiest cities in the continental United States, due to the fact that rainfall is typically light.
Seattle experiences light to moderate rain during the months of November, December, and January. The city receives roughly half of its annual rainfall (by volume) during these three months. In late fall/early winter, atmospheric rivers (also known as "Pineapple Express" systems), strong frontal systems, and Pacific low pressure systems are common. Light rain & drizzle are the predominant forms of precipitation during the remainder of the year; for instance, on average, less than of rain falls in July and August combined when rain is rare. On occasion, Seattle experiences somewhat more significant weather events. One such event occurred on December 2–4, 2007, when sustained hurricane-force winds and widespread heavy rainfall associated with a strong "Pineapple Express" event occurred in the greater Puget Sound area and the western parts of Washington and Oregon. Precipitation totals exceeded in some areas with winds topping out at along coastal Oregon. It became the second wettest event in Seattle history when a little over of rain fell on Seattle in a 24 hour period. Lack of adaptation to the heavy rain contributed to five deaths and widespread flooding and damage.
Autumn, winter, and early spring are frequently characterized by rain. Winters are cool and wet with average lows in the mid 30s °F (1–4 °C) at night, with 28 annual days with lows that reach the freezing mark, and two days where the temperature stays at or below freezing all day; the temperature rarely lowers to . Summers are sunny, dry and warm to hot, with average daytime highs around, and with temperatures reaching on three days per year. The hottest officially recorded temperature was on July 29, 2009; the coldest recorded temperature was on January 31, 1950. Eastern suburbs of Seattle, such as Bellevue and Issaquah, are typically even hotter when the temperature soars above, due to their location closer to downslope winds from the Cascade Mountains and further from Puget Sound. On Seattle's recorded hottest day of July 29, 2009, parts of south Bellevue, Renton, and Issaquah peaked at .
Seattle typically receives some snowfall on an annual basis but heavy snow is rare. Average annual snowfall, as measured at Sea-Tac Airport, is . Single calendar-day snowfall of six inches or greater has occurred on only 15 days since 1948, and only once since February 17, 1990, when of snow officially fell at Sea-Tac airport on January 18, 2012. This moderate snow event was officially the 12th snowiest calendar day at the airport since 1948 and snowiest since November 1985. Much of the city of Seattle proper received somewhat lesser snowfall accumulations. Locations to the south of Seattle received more, with Olympia and Chehalis receiving to . Another moderate snow event occurred from December 12–25, 2008, when over one foot (30 cm) of snow fell and stuck on much of the roads over those two weeks, when temperatures remained below, causing widespread difficulties in a city not equipped for clearing snow.
Seattle's daily record snowfall is on January 13, 1950. The largest snowstorm on record occurred from January 5–9, 1880, with snow drifting to in places at the end of the snow event. From January 31 to February 2, 1916, another heavy snow event occurred with of snow on the ground by the time the event was over.
The Puget Sound Convergence Zone is an important feature of Seattle's weather. In the convergence zone, air arriving from the north meets air flowing in from the south. Both streams of air originate over the Pacific Ocean; airflow is split by the Olympic Mountains to Seattle's west, then reunited to the east. When the air currents meet, they are forced upward, resulting in convection. Thunderstorms caused by this activity can occur north and south of town, but Seattle itself rarely receives more weather than occasional thunder and small hail showers. The Hanukkah Eve Wind Storm in December 2006 is an exception that brought heavy rain and winds gusting up to, not caused by the Puget Sound Convergence Zone.
One of many exceptions to Seattle's reputation as a damp location occurs in El Niño years, when marine weather systems track as far south as California and little precipitation falls in the Puget Sound area. Since the region's water comes from mountain snow packs during the dry summer months, El Niño winters can not only produce substandard skiing but can result in water rationing and a shortage of hydroelectric power the following summer.
Seattle has grown through a series of annexations of smaller neighboring communities. On May 3, 1891, Magnolia, Wallingford, Green Lake, and the University District (then known as Brooklyn) were annexed. The town of South Seattle was annexed on October 20, 1905. Between January 7 and September 12, 1907, Seattle nearly doubled its land area by annexing six incorporated towns and areas of unincorporated King County, including Southeast Seattle, Ravenna, South Park, Columbia City, Ballard, and West Seattle. Three years later, after having difficulties paying a $10,000 bill from the county, the city of Georgetown merged with Seattle. Finally, on January 4, 1954, the area between N. 85th Street and N. 145th Street was annexed, including the neighborhoods of Pinehurst, Greenwood, Blue Ridge, Crown Hill, Broadview, Bitter Lake, Haller Lake, Maple Leaf, Lake City, View Ridge and Northgate.
Former Seattle mayor Greg Nickels is among those who have called Seattle "a city of neighborhoods", although the boundaries (and even names) of those neighborhoods are often open to dispute. For example, a Department of Neighborhoods spokeswoman reported that her own neighborhood has gone from "the 'CD' (Central District) to 'Madrona' to 'Greater Madison Valley' and now 'Madrona Park'.
Over a dozen Seattle neighborhoods have Neighborhood Service Centers, originally known in 1972 as "Little City Halls" and even more have their own street fair and/or parade during the summer months.
The largest of the city's street fairs feature hundreds of craft and food booths and multiple stages with live entertainment, and draw more than 100,000 people over the course of a weekend. In addition, at least half a dozen neighborhoods have weekly farmers' markets, some with as many as fifty vendors.
Additionally, Puget Sound Regional Council designates several areas of Seattle as urban centers, defined as "designated planning districts intended to provide a mix of housing, employment and commercial and cultural amenities in a compact form that supports transit, walking and cycling." These urban centers may have the same name as a neighborhood but slightly different borders; for example, the Capitol Hill Urban Center is much smaller than the entire neighborhood.
Unlike many other American cities, the center of economic and social activity in Seattle gravitates toward the downtown core, with the main shopping district running from east to west along Pike and Pine Streets and north to south along Fifth and Sixth Avenues. The area is home to Pike Place Market, multiple national and international retailers, and Westlake Plaza—a popular site for political demonstrations.
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