January’s gray comes with a silver lining

By Nic Loyd, WSU meteorologist, and Linda Weiford, WSU News

weathercatch(2) (2)SPOKANE, Wash. – Even for a region accustomed to clouds in winter, this month has been a doozy.

If you’ve been sloshing through a case of the wintertime blahs, you’re not alone. Drizzle, snow, freezing rain, fog – only a duck would love the kind of January we’re having.

A cloudy day is defined as one with 80 percent or more sky coverage, according to the National Weather Service. Since Jan. 1, we’ve had far more days of clouds than sun – and the month isn’t yet over.

And guess what’s in store for the month’s final days: More clouds. More fog. More snow and rain.

The sun is up there, all right, but it’s obscured by clouds formed both far away and locally. During winter, clouds commonly form in the air above us, unlike in summer. This seasonal cloudiness tends to be horizontally stratified, or layered, resulting in long-lasting overcast conditions that blanket the sky.

This, combined with a steady series of low pressure systems plowing in off the Pacific Ocean, has notched up our weather’s dreary meter.

So yes, it’s been a gray month. But there’s a silver lining in what may seem like a relentless cycle of gloom.

Precipitation dumped by the bounty of clouds has put a big dent in the severe drought that hit much of Washington in 2015. Additionally, the persistent cloud cover has kept temperatures from dipping much below freezing.

And finally, the number of cloudy days in this region typically starts to ebb in February. The average number is 20, compared to January’s average of 24, according to the Western Regional Climate Center.

This means that, before long, the sun should start peeking out more often, leaving us blinking like Punxsutawney Phil when he emerges on Groundhog Day and sees the light.


Weathercatch is a bimonthly column published in the Spokesman Review.