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Cloudy skies can lead to the blues

By Skip Rigney

This is the time of year when some otherwise cheerful people feel down in the dumps. It was first noticed back in the 1800s, but it wasn’t until the 1980s that mental health professionals began seriously studying the fact that some people tended to exhibit symptoms of depression each winter. One of the key researchers, Dr. Norman Rosenthal, experienced this cyclical sadness himself, and has written several books on the phenomenon that came to be known as seasonal affective disorder, or by its highly appropriate acronym, SAD.

According to the American Psychiatric Association, “People with SAD experience mood changes and symptoms similar to depression. The symptoms usually occur during the fall and winter months when there is less sunlight and usually improve with the arrival of spring. The most difficult months for people with SAD in the U.S. tend to be January and February.”

There may be multiple factors at work, but there is a clear link to a decreased amount of sunlight. Not only are days shorter in winter, but many areas, including Mississippi, Louisiana, and Alabama, are cloudier during the winter than at any other time of the year. Five to ten percent of Americans experience SAD, and the rate is highest in areas with short, frequently cloudy days.

According to data from the National Centers of Environmental Information, the average proportion of sunny daytime hours to cloudy hours in December, January, and February, is around 50 percent in south Mississippi. April through October are significantly sunnier, with the average percentage of sunshine rising to 60 to 70 percent during those months.

The week just past was certainly more cloudy than sunny. And, it looks like more of the same is on tap for the coming week. The forecast from the National Weather Service (NWS) in Slidell issued Friday morning used the words “cloudy” for three of the next six days, and only “partly sunny” for the rest.

Lest we feel too sorry for ourselves, consider the folks in the state of Washington.

During the winter months there, the sun shines only 20 to 40 percent of the time it could be shining. And, of course being 1,000 miles farther north than us, most of their winter days are one to two hours shorter than ours.

However, if contemplating your own blessings in contrast to the dreariness which is usually the fate of Washingtonians does not cheer you up, you might consider a winter vacation to one of our country’s sunnier locales.

You’ll find it hard to beat most locations in Arizona. Phoenix, Tucson, and Yuma all experience sunny skies an average of 80 to 90 percent of the daylight hours in February.

But, of course, averages are no guarantee on any particular day or week, even in the desert. The forecast for southern Arizona for this week includes several cloudy days, and even a chance of rain.

If you prefer the ocean over the desert, there’s always Key West, Florida, with an average of 77 percent sunshine during February. And, the upcoming week’s forecast is shaping up as close to average. “Mostly sunny” every day for the next week is the prediction for the Florida Keys.