Gloomy January 2020

Solar Radiation at the U of M St. Paul Campus Climate Observatory
Solar Radiation at the U of M St. Paul Campus Climate Observatory
Credit: Minnesota DNR State Climatology Office


Minnesotans expect January to be clear and crisp, but January 2020 followed a different path, finishing with less solar radiation than any January since records began at the U of M St. Paul Campus Climate Observatory in 1963. In other words, it was the cloudiest January in 57 years of records.*

The gloomy month was punctuated by a streak of ten consecutively cloudy days, from January 22-31, which is unusually long for the middle of winter, when high pressure and clear skies often dominate. Cloudy conditions are generally more common during the fall and early winter than during January. The last stretch of at least seven straight completely cloudy days during any time of the year occurred in October 2018.

Using records from the discontinued sunshine recorder at the Twin Cities International Airport, it appears the record-longest streak without sunshine is fifteen days, from October 30 to November 13, 1972. This streak itself only tells part of the story, because it broke on November 14 with only a brief glimpse of sunlight lasting less than an hour, and then was followed by two more completely sunless days!

Another noteworthy gloomy streak that some residents will recall occurred over fourteen straight days, from December 26, 1991 to January 8, 1992. Low clouds obscured the tops of the skyscrapers in downtown Minneapolis amid drizzle and dense fog. The temperature for those fourteen days ranged between 27 and 37 degrees at the Twin Cities Airport, which is an unusually tight range for winter. That streak dampened post-holiday spirits, prompting the Chairman of Fingerhut to charter a plane to give employees on a trip above the clouds to find sunlight. An odd feature during this event was the "frozen fog" that shorted out power lines in west-central Minnesota.

Since 1906, there have been two other long stretches of general cloud cover: Oct. 31 to Nov. 15, 1922 and a comparable stretch from Nov. 15 to 28, 1944, but those periods were marked by at least a partial break in the clouds.


* January 2024 finished even lower than January 2020 is now the least-brilliant January on record.


Last modified: February 2, 2024


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