Why is winter so cloudy?


FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) — Winter in Indiana is not known for sunshine, with stubborn clouds sometimes sticking around for days.

While we are recently experiencing the cold and wintry precipitation that comes with winter, something we have had for most of the winter has been the cloud cover. In fact, since December 1st, Fort Wayne has only experienced 24 percent of possible sunshine. This isn’t all that uncommon for our region mainly due to our proximity to the Great Lakes.

You are likely familiar with the lake effect snow phenomenon, which for us is typically off of Lake Michigan. This is where much colder air flows over the warmer water. This air rises and cools leading to snow showers and flurries. It is a very similar principle for lake effect cloud cover. However, cloud cover requires much less when it comes to moisture.

When winds are flowing from the northwest we get clouds off of Lake Michigan, while a strong east wind can pull clouds all the way from Lake Erie.

The angle of the sun during the winter season can also be to blame. In the summer the sun is higher in the sky and our days are longer leading to more direct and efficient heating. However, In the winter the sun is lower in the sky with shorter days and will not be nearly as efficient at heating the surface. So, when we have do have sunny and clear conditions we still won’t warm as much and stay cool.

Typically air cools as you go higher in the atmosphere and that air rises. However, with the low angle of the sun, the surface doesn’t warm as much. This can lead to cold air staying at the surface, but a warmer layer of air develops above, this is called a temperature inversion. In the layer between the warm and cold air, moisture gets stuck and clouds persist in this zone. If the sun were able to warm the air at the surface, it would dry out easier, thus allowing air to rise and skies to clear.

When we have snow at the surface melting, it can also contribute to moisture that can get trapped at this inversion.

Find out when the next chance for sunshine is at wane.com/weather

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