How Cincy Works: The Terrible Outdoors

We have a reputation for grumbling about our mercurial weather—and for good reason.
What gives?
What gives?

Illustration by Serge Seidlitz

For our June 2015 issue, we explore (and try to explain) the ins and outs of the Queen City.

Cincinnati’s weather gets little love, even on the blogosphere. When Nate Silver’s statistical website FiveThirtyEight.com set its analytical lens to determine which of our country’s 50 most populated cities has the least predictable weather, Cincinnati ranked fourth. That translates to soggy outdoor weddings, spring plantings killed by late frosts, and entire decades when frigid winters glide seamlessly into summers of muggy oppression.

So what gives? Well, the plains to our west are a playground where Arctic and Gulf air tangle freely, then, like a meteorological Tasmanian Devil, head east under the influence of the fickle jet stream. Hence, predicting our weather means knowing where and when these warm and cold air masses will stir up trouble—a feat compared to predicting where bubbles will surface in a boiling pan.

Independent climatologist and blogger Brian Brettschneider takes it a step further. He places cities on a “dreariness index” measured by combining annual precipitation, number of days with precipitation, and average cloud cover. Based on the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s historical data, Cincinnati averages just 20 to 30 “picture-perfect days” a year, which Brettschneider defines as 60- to 80-degree days with (mostly) blue skies and no precipitation. Cincinnati lands at six on the dreariness index; Cleveland is fifth.

Unfortunately, we still have to worry about tornados, floods, snow, ice, and hail storms—giving a twisted, meteorological credence to the curse: “May you live in interesting times.”

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