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A cloudy streak that has obscured the sun for seven straight days and shows no signs of breaking until at least the weekend has made this the gloomiest January in the Twin Cities in decades.

Clouds have been present more than 70% of the month and they have been so thick that the amount of sunlight sneaking through has been at its lowest level in January since the climate observatory on the University of Minnesota's St. Paul campus began keeping such records in 1963.

"Bland weather," said Pete Boulay, of the Minnesota State Climatology Office.

On the upside, the constant cloud cover has kept us from falling into the deep freeze. The month is on track to finish as one of the Top 20 warmest for January since record-keeping began.

But the persistent gray may be affecting our moods, said Dr. Michael Howell, a sleep specialist at M Health Fairview. Lack of sunlight means our body clocks don't reset as well, leaving many people feeling sluggish and less alert. A lack of sun can also lead to sleep problems and put people in bad moods. In severe cases, it can bring on bouts of depression, he said.

"It can be quite profound," Howell said as he took a walk along Washington Avenue in Minneapolis on Tuesday, when there was no sun to be found. "It affects all sorts of things."

There have been only three completely clear days in January, and a handful of days with a mix of sun and clouds this month, according to the Climatology Office. Overall, the month has seen 17 totally cloudy days, including the string of seven that began last Tuesday when the sun was last seen.

January normally sees 15 totally cloudy days, so the number isn't far from the usual. But the dreary days have been more clumped together and with thick enough clouds to limit the amount of sunlight getting through, Boulay said.

Long periods of cloudiness in January are not common, said Tyler Hasenstein, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service. The record for consecutive days with zero minutes of sunshine is 15, from Oct. 30 to Nov. 13, 1972, Boulay said.

Skies were cloudy in the Twin Cities for 14 consecutive days from Dec. 26, 1991, to Jan. 8, 1992. In that instance, the chairman of Fingerhut hired a plane to take his employees on a trip above the clouds to find the sun, a 1992 Star Tribune article recounted.

January is normally the coldest month of the year, but the thick blanket of clouds has kept this January warmer than usual. Cloud cover keeps temperatures from falling too low at night, Hasenstein said. The average temperature for this month has been 24.9 degrees, about 5 degrees warmer than average. "If you have sun, you usually have arctic air," he said.

The weather pattern is expected to shift the first week of February. Temperatures could plummet as clouds move out. For some, that might be welcome. "People miss the sun and they'd like to see it back," Boulay said.

Tim Harlow • 612-673-7768