Archive for Monday, January 6, 1992


January 6, 1992


If the recent rash of overcast days has made you somewhat depressed or listless, just be glad you don't live in Wisconsin, says a Lawrence resident who formerly lived in the dairy state.

"In Wisconsin, this kind of weather goes on until March, and suicides become tremendous this time of year," said B.J. Wells, a counselor at Lawrence High School. "People get really depressed, and what they miss is the sunlight."

Northeast Kansas has had its share of gray days in recent weeks. John Feldt with the National Weather Service in Topeka said this morning that of the last 19 days, 14 have been cloudy. The last sunny day was Friday, and about the only break before that was from Dec. 23-26.

Feldt said that although the cloud cover data was collected in Topeka, it is representative of Northeast Kansas.

"The reason we're cloudy is because temperatures are fairly mild," Feldt said. "It's sort of a trade off this time of year: Warm goes along with cloudy, and cold goes along with sunny.

"Historically, a major pattern like this will change after two or three weeks. It's unusual that it's lasted as long as it has."

BUT WELLS said Kansas has nothing on Wisconsin.

"We would drive to Kansas City as late as March just to get away from this kind of weather," said Wells, who lived in Wisconsin for 31 years.

She said the long-term cloud cover was the main reason the University of Wisconsin-Madison ended its practice of tying spring break to Easter, which doesn't come until the end of April some years.

"Students really needed the change, not only to have a break halfway through the semester, but to have a break from the weather," said Wells, who served on a committee that proposed the change.

Douglas Denney, professor of psychology at Kansas University, said some people who become abnormally depressed over extended cloudiness have been labeled as victims of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).

Denney said there is evidence that SAD, a rare illness, is physiologically based.

He said the enzymes that convert a chemical called serotonin to another called melatonin are inhibited by sunlight. For that reason, during a period of limited sunlight, more serotonin is converted to melatonin, and serotonin levels may drop.

Because serotonin serves as a neuro-transmitter between neurons in the brain, lower serotonin is believed to be partially responsible for the extreme depression experienced by people who have SAD.

DENNEY SAID increased melatonin is believed to be the reason why animals began such winter activities as food-gathering and preparing for hibernation.

"All of those activities are probably to some extent set in motion by melatonin," he said.

While increased levels of melatonin are believed to have little effect on humans, Denney said there are some "curious parallels" between people with SAD and animals preparing for hibernation.

Whereas depressed people typically show less interest in eating, people with SAD have been known to eat a lot, to have a strong "carbohydrate craving," Denney said.

He added that some clinical SAD patients develop hypersomnia and want to sleep all the time, and they even have made comments such as "I'm as grumpy as a bear."

Denney stressed that SAD is "a very rare disorder."

"A lot of people feel less energetic during times when the weather is cloudy," he said. "Whether that can be attributed to the same biological processes (associated with SAD) is very questionable."

Whether or not people are being affected by the recent cloudy weather, Feldt said area residents can expect some relief by perhaps the middle of the month.

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