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An Oregonian’s Guide to Spring Weather at Willamette

Updated: May 2, 2023

Bjorn Domst

Staff Writer

Photo by Isis Coyle

The sun shines bright on a relatively cloudless day in the middle of April, as a certain unfortunate individual makes the fateful decision to abandon their rain jacket for the day. It shouldn’t be needed after all, with only their one morning class and then a trip to Goudy, right? The sun’s warmth will feel good after all the gray days of the past few weeks.

However, that’s not how weather works here in the Willamette Valley. The sky deceives and the clouds laugh as they roll in at breakneck speeds, bringing a torrential downpour upon unsuspecting innocents.

Stepping outside, the Oregonians laugh back, adeptly slipping on windbreakers and jackets or simply soaking up the falling H2O like a cactus in a desert flash flood. They came prepared. The third, fourth and even some second year non Oregonians also foresaw the shift in weather and now cover themselves, pulling out umbrellas and gritting their teeth against the wind.

The first years though—those who haven’t experienced such crazily oscillating patterns—never saw it coming. They arrive wide eyed and sputtering at Goudy, fighting off hypothermia as if they’d just been thrown beneath the current of an overflowing Mill Stream in the middle of winter.

This phenomenon is all too common at this time of year. “Spring weather has been very volatile,” said Rylan Rodrigues-Zahn (’26), a first year from Orange County, California. “I’ll go to class for an hour, and when I come back out, the campus will be a completely different world.”

It takes time to learn that the only consistencies in Oregon spring weather are its inconsistencies. To truly mark its significance, however, it will be necessary to move beyond anecdotal evidence. With data from approximately 1950 through 2011, “The Weather Almanac: A Reference Guide to Weather, Climate, and Related Issues in the United States and Its Key Cities” by Steven L. Horstmeyer can provide some data to work with.

Although this source doesn’t account for diel variability in weather, it is noteworthy that it shows spring months averaging 17.3 days (March), 15.5 days (April) and 12.9 days (May) in terms of having some level of rainfall during the day. This means that dry spells upwards of a few days are highly unlikely—especially in the earlier months—so weekly plans should always assume rain will sweep in at some point to spoil the fun. Cloud cover during these same months averages out to a little above 20 days each.

Even by June, an average of 16.1 days will see the same cloudy weather, with 8.9 days of precipitation. As Oregon enters summer, the gauntlet of back and forth weather still isn’t over. You have been warned.

There is a distinction to draw between this type of climate and perhaps what many are used to with regard to heavier rainfall. Maybe the local 3.71 inch monthly average of rainfall for March doesn’t quite measure up to your home state’s totals. Unfortunately, the Willamette Valley is all about the slow and steady erosion—and confusion—of your soul, not the volume it takes to do so.

Even if the daily temperature suddenly starts getting consistently into the 80s and 90s in late April or early May, don’t go switching out your entire closet just yet. If you have space in your daily carryon, also remember to pack your poncho.

For most, these sudden changes in precipitation and cloud cover are more frustrating than anything else. Not everyone views it the same way. Jay Chew (’26), another first year from California (Elk Grove), said, “It’s actually been nice . . . I enjoy the rain. I don’t get a lot of that in California.” Chew is a distance runner, and also likes running in the rain.

When asked about how he determines the weather each day, Chew noted, “My window is always open, so I typically just glance outside.” Jay added that he doesn’t let that determination affect his wardrobe much, though. He dresses far more depending on his mood than perceived outdoor wetness. If the day brings rain over shine, he’ll be happy.

On particularly gray days, he gives a warm shout out “to Steve Thorsett and his weather machine,” both of which work in perfect tandem to create a wet day out of nothing. Maybe that’s how the weather works around here; it’s too strange to be explained by almanacs and anecdotes alone.

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