Peculiar Pittsburgh

Yes, Pittsburgh is always gray, and yes, it’s affecting your health.

Blame it on the rain.

cloudy pittsburgh
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There was a time, not that long ago, when Pittsburgh’s cloud cover was permanent and low to the ground and manmade.

That’s no longer the case, but clouds of the naturally occurring variety are still here, almost always, it seems — like a roach lingering in a diner, they’re not really bothering anyone, but they’re definitely affecting the ambiance.

Anyway, it’s not just a feeling, it’s quantifiable. In 2016, for example, Pittsburgh saw 203 cloudy days — or more than one half of the year under cloud cover — according to the National Climatic Data Center. That same year saw a 45 percent chance of possible sunshine, on average. And it was the same story the year before that, and the year before that, and the year before that. (Annual totals for 2017 were not yet available.)

While Pittsburgh isn’t hell with the lid off anymore, it’s now more like Phoenix with the blinds drawn.

A coal barge moves past a United States Steel Corporation coke plant on the Monongahela River at Clairton.

A coal barge moves past a United States Steel Corporation coke plant on the Monongahela River at Clairton.

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Pittsburgh’s been ranked the second dreariest city in the country — tied with Portland, Ore., — and unironically dubbed the “Seattle of the East.” (Pittsburgh was also named one the country’s unhappiest cities in 2014.)

“We’re south of the Great Lakes,” said Lee Hendricks, a hydrologist with the National Weather Service here. “This time of year you have [air] flow that predominantly comes down across the Great Lakes, and while the air from central Canada is relatively dry, it picks up a lot of moisture off the Great Lakes. Or you have a situation like we have now, with a strong system from the Gulf pumping warm, moist air up.”

For what it’s worth, there’s also this very real story citing a link between deep-fried foods and cloud cover.

Either way, if you’re in Pittsburgh, it’s probably cloudy and/or raining. (Silver lining: Our garden-grown tomatoes are top notch — and excellent when deep fried.)

But beyond the atmospherics, all this cloud cover is affecting your body in ways you may not even be cognizant of.

“There’s been a general concern in Pittsburgh that we’re pretty much all Vitamin D deficient here,” said Dr. Gary Swanson, a psychiatrist with the Allegheny Health Network. “And one of the things associated with depressed moods is low levels of Vitamin D, and that does correlate with cloud cover.”

Here’s how it works: You take in Vitamin D, or more accurately its precursors, through foods or supplements or what have you. But you need sunshine — or more specifically the sun’s UV rays — to convert the vitamin to an active form your body needs.

“So the more cloudy it is, the less sunshine you’re exposed to and the more likely you are to be Vitamin D deficient,” Swanson added.

Anyone who’s lived in Pittsburgh or western Pennsylvania knows it’s cloudier here in the winter, an assertion that’s backed up by National Climatic Data Center reports.

But Vitamin D deficiency and Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD, are two different things, although there is certainly the potential for some overlap.

As mentioned above, Vitamin D deficiency can be connected to a dreary climate and cloud cover and depression — it can also be connected to spending too much time indoors.

Video: Is Pittsburgh the ‘Seattle of the east?’ via WTAE-TV