Winter’s darkest days trend sunnier with time

We’re now literally entering the darkest days of the year in Minnesota. But before you get depressed about that, know this: winter actually trends sunnier in Minnesota as we move into January and February.

Low sun season in Victoria. Paul Huttner | MPR News

First, the dark stuff. We’re now moving through the darkest two weeks of the year in Minnesota. You can see where we are on the annual daylight chart via

Wednesday’s sunset at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport is 4:31 p.m. That’s the earliest sunset time of the year. Sunset time hovers here until Dec. 15.

Thanks to Earth’s quirky elliptical orbit, the sunset ticks a minute later at 4:32 p.m. CST on Dec. 15, even before the winter solstice. By Christmas Day, the sun sets at 4:37 p.m. You’ll really begin to notice those later sunsets the week after  Christmas.

Winter gets sunnier

We’re in the midst of what we call “low stratus season” in Minnesota. November is our cloudiest month of the year on average. The Twin Cities receives just 39 percent of possible sunshine in November.

That ticks up to 42 percent in December, 53 percent in January and nearly 60 percent by February. So, winter in Minnesota actually trends sunnier as we move forward.

Here’s the data on the average percent of possible sunshine by month from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

NOAA, via Minnesota DNR State Climatology Office

So as we move through these darkest days of the year the next two weeks know this: the sun begins to set ever so slightly later starting in just nine days.

Overall daylight begins to grow again in just two weeks. And winter trends sunnier as time goes by.


Forecast: Status quo

What you see is pretty much what you get the next few days. Look for a mix of sun and clouds with occasional snow showers. Classic December. Temperatures hover in the 20s. The mildest days still looks like Sunday and Monday.

NOAA, via Weather Bell

Snow cover is back

This shot from space shows Minnesota mostly snow covered once again.

Cali fire weather

The scenes from near Ventura, Calif., are scary. Imagine this coming at you.

Smoke plumes are visible from space as they drift hundreds of miles into the Pacific Ocean.

The health impacts of all that smoke reach well beyond the fire zone.

More homes have been torched, still more under threat.

The Santa Ana winds take a breath Wednesday, before picking up again tonight.

I’m OK with our cold days and snow-covered ground.

  • Philip A. Rutter

    Paul – Averages- schmaverages! 🙂 I used to brag about our gorgeous sunny winter days to Easterners- “Cold? Sure, but brilliant- and often zero wind. Great skiing!”

    But – I also have a solar heated greenhouse business – and for the past 2-3-4 years – I can’t get it warmed up to “average” temperatures in Feb/March. Too cloudy. I’ve run it without supplementary heat since 1992 – but last week I bought a heater.

    Can you take a look at recent years – and compare to the averages? I think we have a trend underway – away from sun.

    • MPR Weather

      Hi Phillip: The irony of winter in Minnesota is that when it’s warmer it’s usually cloudier. The trend you are seeing is probably a climate change signal in action.

      • Michael Larsen

        Living off the grid, I’ve come to dread warm winter weather. When really cold, even a “cloudy” day let’s in more sunshine.

      • Philip A. Rutter

        Particularly ironic is the warmer weather- with more clouds- means my solar heating for the greenhouse is now inadequate. It was designed so carefully for normal winters- and worked great, when we had them. As the sci-fi people used to restate Murphy’s Law – “The perversity of the universe tends to a maximum.” ho ho ho!

  • MPR Weather

    Hi Phillip: The irony of winter in Minnesota is that when it’s warmer it’s usually cloudier. The trend you are seeing is probably a climate change signal in action.