This winter has been gloomier and cloudier than usual across the Midwest and Great Plains

Feb. 12, 2024, 5 a.m. ·

Clockwise from upper left, photos of Des Moines, St. Louis, Chicago and Lincoln. If it seems like you haven’t seen much sun the past few weeks, you’re not imagining things. Data from the Iowa Environmental Mesonet shows January was cloudier than usual in much of the Midwest and Great Plains.

It’s not just you – it’s been a cloudy stretch of weather for many areas of the Midwest and Great Plains.

Data collected by the Iowa Environmental Mesonet shows the number of overcast days in January were higher than historical averages in most cities in the region.

Andrew Stutzke is a TV meteorologist at WQAD in Moline, Illinois. His Quad Cities audience noticed the long stretch of cloudy days.

“I have so many folks asking, ‘Is this way way cloudier than normal?’” he said. “And I’m like ‘Yeah, you’re onto something. We’ve had very few days with full sunshine in January.’”

The cold season is usually the cloudiest time of the year, according to Doug Kluck, a Kansas City-based climatologist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Essentially, cold air and moisture get trapped closer to the ground during winter. It all packs into a thick, dense cloud that blankets the sky.

“During the cold season, it’s easier to condense any moisture you get into clouds,” Kluck said. “Whereas in July and August when the atmosphere is pretty warm, it can hold a lot of water without condensing.”

Stutzke said the clouds may be especially stubborn this year because of El Niño, a weather pattern that tends to send storm systems further south than normal.

“What happens is north of that storm track – where we live – you get a lot of this stagnant air that just doesn’t move,” he said. “There’s no storm system to push through here and move it along to something else.”

Data from the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts shows how the cloudiness in January 2024 stacks up against past Januaries, stretching back to 1940.

February generally provides some sunny relief, according to Stutzke, although March’s stormy tendencies may return the region to overcast days.

Until he can rely on sunnier days in April, Stutzke said he’ll be using his new light therapy lamp.

“I had to buy one for the first time this year, because I could just feel it impacting my mood,” he said. “When I posted about it on my social media, a lot of folks agreed and said they had bought one, too, because it was just so gloomy.”

Surveys have shown seasonal affective disorder (SAD) affects about 5% of people living at Mid-Atlantic latitudes, according to Paul Desan with Yale’s psychiatry department.

People who experience SAD endure an episode of depression that brings on lethargy, sleep and appetite changes and weight gain during the winter season. The condition lifts come summertime.

“We would have people who show up and say that their life just shuts down for half a year,

Desan said. “But those people have a high likelihood of getting better if they’re exposed to bright light first thing in the morning. That’ll turn winter into summer for most people.”

Research shows women are three times more likely than men to have SAD, Desan said. While there are currently no clear conclusions, experts suspect there may be a connection between the disorder and female reproductive hormones.

Yale’s Winter Depression Research Clinic has a list of recommended devices that can deliver some much-needed rays.

This story was produced in partnership with Harvest Public Media, a collaboration of public media newsrooms in the Midwest. It reports on food systems, agriculture and rural issues.