Why is It So Gray Here?

The science behind dreary Central Ohio winters

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From the February 2014 edition

We love gray when it accompanies scarlet, but not so much when it replaces blue—skies, that is. We asked Jeffery Rogers, state climatologist and professor of geology and atmospheric science at Ohio State, to explain why 24 of February’s 28 days will be cloudy.

When low-pressure storm systems reach the Great Lakes, which are warm relative to the air, they hover for a day or two, drawing in the heat. As the systems lift the warm air, the result is a deck of dense, low-hanging stratus clouds “that extend for miles and miles,” Rogers says.

While there’s little hope for much February sun, things start to clear up later in the month as the Great Lakes fully freeze. Come March, the storms pass over more quickly, and cloud coverage slowly starts to diminish.

It’s a similar story for the entire Midwest, but things get worse the farther east you go. Chicago, for example, will have more clear days than Cleveland. Columbus falls somewhere in the middle.

Though the clear-to-cloudy ratio in March isn’t much different, the clouds are. Instead of the low, thick stratus cloud decks, we see more wispy cirrostratus clouds, which let through more sunlight, Rogers says. “Technically, they get classified as a cloudy day but you can see the sun and the blue sky,” he says. “It’s not this gray pall of overcast.”