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Nov. rains drench, even for Seattle

For all the fame of the rain in this soggy city, conversations about climate often lead to local defensiveness: Seattle, which averages about 38 inches of rain annually, is far from the country's wettest big city. Atlanta, Boston, Houston, Miami and New York are just some of the others that get more rain.

The rain here has made its name mostly through persistence, not volume. And not every complaint about precipitation involves wanting less.

"I hate mist, because mist is just a tease," said Alex Sloan, 17, waiting on Saturday for a bus. "Thicker rain, I love it."

"Yeah," chimed in her friend, Lani Farley, 16, "if you're going to get wet, you might as well get soaking wet."

This month, Sloan and Farley got their wish.

At midday on Sunday, near the end of what is typically Seattle's rainiest month, the official rain gauge at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport was well past 14 inches and rising, having mocked the November average of about 5.9 inches and smeared the previous single-month record documented at the airport, 12.92 inches, set in January 1953.

Storm after storm has slammed the Puget Sound region, riding warm air from southern parts of the Pacific Ocean. Now some wonder whether the weather might deliver the single-month record for rainfall since such data was first collected in the 19th century. The mark, 15.33 inches, was set in December 1933, when the official rain gauge was downtown; the official gauge was moved to the airport in 1945.

With just four days left in November and colder, drier air in the forecast - snow, a rarity, fell in parts of the city on Sunday - chances for setting the record have diminished but hope remains.

An inconsistency muddles the comparison of past and present puddles: Usually, more rain falls at the airport than downtown. The grand Olympic Mountains to the west, home to a temperate rainforest, create a "rain shadow," stopping plenty of moisture before it can arrive in the city. The airport, however, is about 14 miles south of downtown.

This month's rains have done extensive damage to a region accustomed to ducking but enduring. Flooding in November killed at least three people in the Northwest, destroyed or damaged hundreds of homes, forced evacuations, ruined farms and washed out roads.

Mount Rainier National Park, about 50 miles southeast of the Seattle region, has been closed since flooding damaged park roads and buildings and swept away an entire campground, Sunshine Point. Nearly 18 inches of rain fell in one 36-hour period, according to park officials, far more than hit Seattle.

The weather is a constant topic of conversation, even among those who insist the rain "doesn't bother me," but this month's drama has stirred discussions about long-term implications. Some models of global warming predict more extreme wet weather in future Northwest winters, and more extreme dry periods in the summer. Just as November has seen unusual rain, this summer was unusually dry and hot.

Six of the 10 wettest Novembers on record in Seattle have occurred in the last 16 years, according to data compiled by the National Weather Service.