Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations
Harvest Public Media is a reporting collaboration focused on issues of food, fuel and field. Based at KCUR in Kansas City, Harvest covers these agriculture-related topics through an expanding network of reporters and partner stations throughout the Midwest.Most Harvest Public Media stories begin with radio- regular reports are aired on member stations in the Midwest. But Harvest also explores issues through online analyses, television documentaries and features, podcasts, photography, video, blogs and social networking. They are committed to the highest journalistic standards. Click here to read their ethics standards.Harvest Public Media was launched in 2010 with the support of a grant from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Today, the collaboration is supported by CPB, the partner stations, and contributions from underwriters and individuals.Tri States Public Radio is an associate partner of Harvest Public Media. You can play an important role in helping Harvest Public Media and Tri States Public Radio improve our coverage of food, field and fuel issues by joining the Harvest Network. Learn more here.

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

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.
Photos (clockwise from upper left) by Michael Leland/IPR, Flickr/frankieleon, Fred Knapp/NPM, Flickr/TerreninVirginia
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.

Winter tends to be the cloudiest part of the year, but data shows there were more overcast days than usual in parts of the region.

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.
Map courtesy of Brian Brettschneider
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.

Elizabeth Rembert reports on agriculture out of Nebraska for Harvest Public Media.