If there’s one thing Greenville lifers and newcomers both know about the area, it’s how weird our weather is. Greenville’s weather manages to be mild and extreme, gorgeous and temperamental, fair and foul all at once.
The daily forecast on Accuweather or Weather.com only tells you half the story. In Greenville, it’s not unusual to have one day of spring weather in the middle of winter or even a day of fall in the middle of spring. Sometimes (and not rarely), the weather features all four seasons in one day. Even our normal weather has its own set of quirks — imagine my astonishment when, in my travels outside Greenville, I discovered that elsewhere the rain falls straight down instead of sideways.
For context, here’s a quick primer on Greenville seasons. Start and end dates for each season are approximate, based on how the season feels in Greenville rather than the established dates on the calendar.
Summer (April to September): The dominant season. So dominant it gets its hot, sticky fingers all over the other seasons, starting early and finishing late. The air breathes like soup and smells like cut grass. Expect one storm weekly, usually on Thursdays. Mornings are cooler, but even if the thermostat reads as low as 75°F the air still feels like a load of towels out of the washing machine. Summer culminates in Hurricane Season. Hurricanes don’t hit Greenville directly but expect dangerous rain and wind at least once a week through September.
Autumn (October to November): Less warm and sticky than summer, Greenville autumns are short but nice. Don’t expect the air to feel crisp until Thanksgiving, though. If there’s been enough rain during the summer, the trees will explode into a glorious rainbow of color. If not, their leaves will turn from green to brown overnight and flop to the ground like dishrags. This season and the spring are by far the best times to enjoy Greenville’s outdoor spaces, like the Swamp Rabbit Trail, Falls Park and Paris Mountain State Park.
Winter (December to February): Northern transplants to the area describe Greenville winters as “mild.” I wouldn’t know, as I personally have no basis for comparison, but I can tell you it rarely gets below freezing. Don’t expect much snow, but if snow falls, it’s pretty and only sticks to roads and driveways for about 30 seconds. Our more extreme winter weather arrives in the form of ice and sleet. Highs on Christmas Day will inevitably reach 70°F for some reason.
Spring (March. Just March.): Spring in Greenville gives you beautiful blossoms, vibrant green leaves and clear, cool air . . . for about a week. That week gives the trees, flowers, grass and ragweed just enough time to warm up so they can spend the rest of spring cranking out 500,000 metric tons of pollen into the atmosphere. Don’t bother washing your car until June — pollen sticks better to clean cars. Buy stock in antihistamines. The bugs will also awaken at that point, and after a rainstorm or two, the air returns to its usual liquid state, with temperatures rocketing into the mid-80s by the first week of April.
So how should the Greenville visitor (or nine-month resident student) prepare for our wild-card weather? Here are a few helpful tips from this lifelong Greenvillian.
This is the most obvious suggestion, but it might be the most important. Especially in the transitional seasons of fall and spring, it’s not unusual for morning temperatures to be 30 degrees colder than the afternoon, or for a storm to butt in on an otherwise clear day. Bring light jackets that fit comfortably over sweaters or long-sleeved shirts. Put the sweater over something short-sleeved. Purchase a light rain jacket that protects your clothes from the wet without insulating too much. It may sound like I’m asking you to wear two or three outfits at once. I am.
2. Manage your hair expectations.
It’s humid here. All the time. It’s humid even if it hasn’t rained in two weeks. The air is water. Your hair will not hold a style unless you use liquid cement for pomade. Your hair will remain a sweat-slicked, frizzy, unruly mess for the duration of your stay in Greenville. If you’re worried about your hair’s appearance getting in the way of your social success, don’t worry — everyone else’s hair will look just as bad.
3. Manage your outfit expectations.
Leave the goose-down parka at home. You will not need it. What you will need: short-sleeved tops and shirts made of breathable fabrics like cotton or linen, similarly light trousers and/or skirts, light sweaters and jackets for the cooler months, water-resistant shoes, and extra-strength antiperspirant deodorant.
The rain, as I mentioned before, falls sideways here, so an umbrella offers minimal protection in the event of rain. Wear clothing that won’t take permanent damage from water and lets sweat escape.
4. In the rare event of wintery weather, just stay home.
Greenville snow is both decorative and deadly. Decorative in that it only ever falls an inch at a time (there’s no such thing as blizzards south of the Blue Ridge Mountains), and dangerous in that no one in Greenville knows how to drive in it. The threat of winter on Greenville’s roads is not snow, but other drivers. Not only that, but our department of transportation doesn’t own many snow scrapers, snow blowers or any other kind of road-clearing equipment and relies mostly on industrial-sized bags of salt for melting patches of ice.
Speaking of ice, Greenville is also famous for a phenomenon called black ice, a form of ice that’s twice as slick as the normal kind and invisible on asphalt. Hit that, and you’re off the road as fast as Yoshi hitting a banana in Mario Kart. Your best bet for a day following a “wintery mix” is to not leave your house unless you can walk to your destination. And even then, wear good boots.
I know I said that Greenville air is water, but you’re not a fish, and you can’t filter all that water from the air into your system. The best way to regulate your temperature and overall health in the warmer (read: 1,000°F in the shade) months is to stay adequately hydrated. Dehydration is sneaky, and if you’re not used to our perpetual heat and spend a lot of time outdoors, you might start feeling sick unless you remember to drink up.