For those of us living in Northeast Ohio, February is the last full month of what can be considered “cloud season.” Come March and the change in weather patterns, the cloudy skies that dominated the region since November will finally loosen their grip, allowing one to see the stars more regularly. Still, though, February can be a very cloudy month, so the news is decidedly mixed.
Yes, there will be plenty of cloud-bringing cold fronts coming through the area in February but, as the temperatures continue to stay low, the good news is that Lake Erie will be at its most iced-over for the year at this time, thus shutting off or slowing down the lake-induced cloud machine (if it stays cold enough).
The reason the sky was so cloudy in the last few months was that Lake Erie was still largely ice-free (water takes a lot longer to cool than air). As cold air comes across the lake from Canada, the moving air masses will pull moisture out of the lake. The moisture condenses, thus forming clouds. These lake effect clouds are the reason why the usually trusty Cleveland Clear Sky Clock's forecasts need to be taken with a grain of salt in the late fall/early winter months. Basically, with a simple shift of the wind, clouds can start coming out of the North as if from another dimension, blotting out the stars in a few minutes time.
However, with the extended cold period of December-January behind us, things may get better as the lake starts to freeze over, thus cutting off the lake effect cloud machine's fuel (water). Cold can be a good thing!
As a last point, even though we are in the depths of winter (Feb. 2 marks winter's half way point), it's not improbable for an extremely strong warm front to barge up out of the south and give us a drastic, albeit brief, February thaw, especially around month's end. So, with all of their strength, along with warm temperatures, these warm fronts often bring a lot of wind, too. Obviously, wind is not an astronomer/astrophotographer's friend, unless you have an observatory, in which situation the wind won't send your scope bouncing all over the place. If this does not describe you, try and find a shielded place from which to observe on a windy night. The North side of your dwelling is a great place to hide from strong, Southern winds.
As the last part of the puzzle, be sure to keep an eye on the Cleveland weather forecast and, for hour-by-hour cloud predictions, the Cleveland Clear Sky Clock if you plan to head out and look at the stars this coming week. The good news: at least in the Cleveland area, things are looking partly suny for most of the week, which is good for this normally clouded-out time of year. Live somewhere else? Find a clock and see if it will be clear near you.
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Bodzash Photography & Astronomy