WXXI AM News

Where's the sun? We can blame warmer winter for unrelenting cloudiness

Jan 18, 2021

The sun tries to peek out from behind the clouds hanging over Cobbs Hill Reservoir on Friday morning.
Credit Max Schulte/WXXI News

Calvin Eaton usually struggles with the lack of sunlight each winter.

"Feeling down and low, but I think this year, it just feels a little bit more omnipresent,” he said.

It's not his imagination. Rochester’s last sunny day, defined by no more than 20% cloud cover, was Nov. 10, 2020.

Rochester averages 23 cloudy days in the month of December. But this past December?

"Every day was at least mostly cloudy or cloudy based upon the sky condition reports measured by the celiometer at the National Weather Service office at the Rochester airport,” said meteorologist Josh Nichols.

This month hasn't been much better. So far in January, there has been just one day that averaged partly cloudy.

"The other day I was in my kitchen eating breakfast,” said Eaton, “and I was looking out the window, like, 'This just sucks.' "

He usually does to try to defeat those gloomy feelings by getting out into the community, spending time with friends and family, and traveling to sunnier places.

But all of that is discouraged now because of the coronavirus pandemic. For Eaton, the overcast conditions have become a metaphor.

"It's just sort of like one more dull reminder of the times we're living in right now,” he said with a sigh.

Eaton isn't suffering alone.                                                                                                                          

Clouds roll past the the Mercury statue, a landmark in downtown Rochester, on Friday morning.
Credit Max Schulte/WXXI News

Seasonal affective disorder, or SAD, a type of depression associated with the change of season, affects up to 3% of people worldwide.

"And it affects, I think, our Finger Lakes region more than other parts of the country,” said Dr. Mathew Devine, medical director at Highland Family Medicine.

Devine said SAD does have a profound effect on people's moods.  Symptoms include depression, fatigue, weight gain, loss of libido, and in some cases, suicidal thoughts.

Treatments range from light therapy and psychotherapy to antidepressant medications and vitamin D.

With the daily stresses of a global pandemic, not to mention political unrest and division, the unrelenting cloudiness is probably more likely to affect even those who don't normally experience seasonal depression, Devine said.

"So, it's so important that people reach out to their primary care offices and get help for this before it kind of gets out of hand,” he urged.

In the meantime, there may be some good news for people who are suffering from the lack of sunlight.

The relatively warm and moist air that creates clouds could be replaced in the last 10 days of January and early February with drier, colder air that sets the stage for sunshine, according to Nichols’ long-range forecast.                     

"Relief is probably not that far off,” he said. “We just have to be patient."

The not-so-good news is that global warming could be setting the stage for more prolonged periods of cloudiness in future Rochester winters.

On the other hand, Nichols pointed out that climate change is linked to sustained weather patterns in general, so summer seasons may bring more sunny days than what was once considered normal.