Is Minnesota cloudier in winter, or does it just seem that way?

Just last year, Minnesota recorded its gloomiest January in 57 years.

The Minneapolis skyline was locked in an hazy shroud in February 2021, as seen from the Stone Arch Bridge.
The Minneapolis skyline was locked in an hazy shroud in February 2021, as seen from the Stone Arch Bridge.

— David Joles, Star Tribune

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After living for years in Minnesota, Doug Killian theorized that the state's skies are bleaker in winter than in summer.

"We love Minnesota — summer, spring, fall — but it seems like there's more sunshine during that time than during the winter," Killian said. "It seems more pronounced in the winter, because there's more gray and because the days are naturally shorter as well."

Killian is spending this winter at his second home in sunny Tucson, Arizona, but all that sun didn't stop him from asking Curious Minnesota, our community-driven reporting project fueled by readers' questions, "Is Minnesota cloudier during the winter?"

Yes, Minnesota is cloudier in winter, according to Lisa Schmit, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service's regional office in Chanhassen.

"Some of our cloudiest months are during the wintertime, especially in the December or January time frame," she said. "That tends to be when we get stratus clouds. Those lower clouds can make it drearier."

However, Alberta clippers — fast, low-pressure winds that bring sharp gusts and steep temperature drops — do sweep in during the winter, blowing away clouds and providing bright, clear skies on some days, she added.

Just last year, Minnesota recorded its gloomiest January in 57 years, according to the state Department of Natural Resources. From Jan. 22 to 31, 2020, there were 10 consecutive cloudy days.

Over 57 years of record-keeping, the Twin Cities area has averaged 169 cloudy days, 101 partly cloudy days and 95 clear days per year, according to data from the National Centers for Environmental Information from 2018.

The cloudiest months are November and December, with an average of 18 cloudy days. November averages five days with clear skies and December six.

In summer, skies are clearer. The Twin Cities averages only nine cloudy days in July.

Duluth had a higher average of cloudy days than the Twin Cities, with 187 cloudy days and just 77 of clear skies annually. Its cloudiest month is November, when an average of 20 days feature gray skies.

The long winter and increased cloud cover contribute to seasonal affective disorder (SAD), according to Dr. Jean Larson, who manages nature-based therapeutic services at the University of Minnesota, a collaboration between the Bakken Center and the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum.

Typical symptoms of SAD include sleeping more, eating more, having less energy, feeling irritable and having difficulty concentrating.

"Light therapy has been shown to help some people, but in general, it's really important to get up and moving — forcing yourself to do things you enjoy both inside and outside the house," Larson said. "Research also tells us being outside interacting with nature on a daily basis improves mental health by reducing levels of stress, anxiety and even improving motivation to exercise."

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