Why is winter in West Michigan always so cloudy?


GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — You don’t need a meteorologist to tell you it’s been especially cloudy this winter, but you may need one to show you why.

LAKE EFFECT CLOUDS

Much of the cloudiness we see in West Michigan is because of Lake Michigan. Wisconsin and Illinois are statistically sunnier than us this time of year!

At our latitude, weather and wind usually travel from the west to the east. This means any cold air that moves into West Michigan usually travels over the lake first. If the lake is warm, this cold air will immediately cloud over and blow into the Mitten.

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SYNOPTIC CLOUDS

When our clouds aren’t being formed by Lake Michigan, they are being brought to us by weather systems. These “synoptic” systems arrive year-round about once every three days or so. When they arrive they usually bring a chance of rain or snow, and almost always increase the cloud cover.

These synoptic systems are told where to go by the jetstream. Lately the jetstream has been pulling in a lot of moisture from the Gulf of Mexico and Thursday, the jetstream was pulling clouds into southern Michigan all the way from Puerto Vallarta!

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StormTrack Live on Water Vapor mode showing the moisture being drawn up from Puerto Vallarta, Mexico to Michigan.

THIS SEASON

The combination of lake effect clouds and synoptic clouds has given our side of the state an especially grey theme so far this winter season. So far, October, December and the first half of January have all been cloudier than usual. This past December we only saw 12 percent of all the sunshine we could have received. A typical December usually features at least 20 percent.

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Graph showing how much sunshine each month usually averages (yellow) compared to this year (purple)

So far this January we’ve only seen 17 percent possible sunshine. We typically see 26 percent. The next several days are looking cloudy, meaning January is looking to finish the same way it started.

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