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Heather’s Weather Whys: What’s the difference between partly sunny and partly cloudy?

Don’t laugh, a lot of people ask our Storm Team 2 meteorologists that very question!
Credit: WGRZ

BUFFALO, N.Y. — There are plenty of weather questions that a meteorologist will get on the regular. How much snow will I get? When do the winds get bad? How long before it rains again?

Those questions all make sense for most people. They’re asking about impactful weather. But there’s another question that we get pretty frequently too that’s a little bit on the lighter side: What’s the difference between partly cloudy and partly sunny?

The answer comes in two parts.

First is the subjective answer because in most cases it really just depends on who you’re asking and what their thought process is. For me, partly sunny literally means that “part of the sky is sunny.” Just the opposite for partly cloudy. So if you’re looking for a more optimistic forecast, listen for “partly cloudy.” But that’s just my opinion. Other forecasters may have a different idea!

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The second part of the answer actually does contain some science, or at least a nationally recognized standard for measuring and tracking. The national Weather Service records daily sky cover conditions on a scale from 0 to 10. On the scale, 0 is a completely clear sky throughout the majority of the day and 10 is a completely cloudy sky. Anything between a 4 and a 7 is considered “partly cloudy.”

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Sky cover numbers below that are filed as “clear,” and numbers above that 4 to 7 range are recorded as “cloudy,” just to keep things in three fairly simple categories. These observations are made out at the Buffalo Airport, just like the official temperature, precipitation and wind data we share with you.

For those curious, the chart below shows the AVERAGE sky cover for each month in Buffalo. No surprise that winter is our cloudy time but summers tend to favor sunshine.

Credit: WGRZ

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New episodes of Heather’s Weather Whys are posted to the WGRZ YouTube channel every Wednesday evening. If you have a weather question for Heather to answer, send it to her at heather.waldman@wgrz.com or connect with her on Facebook or Twitter.