It seems like residents of every Gulf Coast or Atlantic seaboard city like to boast that their town’s average relative humidity is the worst, the highest, or the most hair-raisingly unbearable in the whole country. But the real location of our nation’s humidity hot spots, drawn from data compiled in 2008 by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), may surprise you.
The Most Humid City: Quillayute/Forks, Washington
This moody, wet, rainy area on Washington’s Olympic Peninsula has the highest average levels of relative humidity in the country. The yearly average is 83.5 percent, even though the average temperature—even in the summer months—doesn’t rise above 70 degrees. Since the area is surrounded by the Pacific Ocean on the west, Puget Sound on the east, and the Olympic Mountains to the south, the wet, humid air and precipitation systems blow in off the ocean and get trapped by the mountains. The peninsula is so humid that it even features one of the world’s few temperate-zone rainforests.
The Rest of the Top Ten Offenders:
2. Mount Washington, New Hampshire (83 percent)
3. Astoria, Oregon (81 percent)
4. Port Arthur, Texas (80 percent)
5. Lake Charles, Louisiana (79.5 percent)
6. Corpus Christi, Texas (78.5 percent)
7. Victoria, Texas (78.5 percent)
8. Brownsville, Texas (78 percent)
9. Houston, Texas (78 percent)
10. Olympia, Washington (78 percent)
Although residents of Southern cities and states may howl in protest and disbelief, NOAA data confirms that these ten cities’ average annual levels of relative humidity—the measure of the amount of water in the air at a specific temperature without the water condensing—are indeed the nation’s highest.
However, just because these places’ levels of relative humidity are at the top of the list, they don’t necessarily feel the most humid. Eighty percent humidity at 60 degrees feels much different from 80 percent humidity at 80 degrees. Heat alone doesn’t make a person uncomfortable in warm weather. It may seem obvious, but humidity paired with heat is considered more troublesome because of the simple fact that it’s hot. When the outside temperature is high, the body wants to sweat; but in humid conditions, the air is already so saturated with water that the body has a difficult time sweating and, therefore, with thermoregulation. Residents of places like Washington, D.C.; Mississippi; Alabama; South Florida; and coastal Texas—all locales notorious for their oppressive humidity—can rest assured that they still have bragging rights. Even though these towns’ humidity levels are technically lower than those of the cities in the top ten, their humid conditions coupled with their higher-than-average temperatures make their climates more difficult for the body to handle.
Despite all the precise and scientific ways that humidity can be measured and quantified, there’s no way to get around the idea that all those numbers don’t really mean much when compared with how a place’s humidity makes us feel. A summer in Quillayute may technically involve a higher percentage of relative humidity, but it still doesn’t hold a candle to the discomfort felt by someone standing in downtown Atlanta on a muggy August day.