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Meteorologist Bob Skilling checked a pyrheliometer, a sunshine measuring device, on the Blue Hill Observatory roof yesterday.
Meteorologist Bob Skilling checked a pyrheliometer, a sunshine measuring device, on the Blue Hill Observatory roof yesterday. (Globe Staff Photo / David L. Ryan)

Often with showers, this May glowers

Deep sun deficit could linger till June

Remember that big orb?

It was yellow. Warm. It used to beat down in a season called spring.

Not this month. A bizarre weather pattern that has stalled chilly temperatures and cloudy skies over New England for much of this month is sending May into the record books as one of the gloomiest.

Sun? Maybe Tuesday.

If three consecutive cloudy May weekends aren't enough, weather forecasters say the latest problem, a spring northeaster that toppled trees throughout the area last night, won't start moving offshore until tomorrow and then only sluggishly. Clouds are expected through Sunday, although temperatures are expected to warm to near normal by Memorial Day.

''It's sort of like the Southeast Expressway; nothing's moving," said Alan Dunham, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Taunton. ''I would love to fix it, but there is nothing I can do but forecast it."

Strawberries are late. Lilacs, already in bloom, may last longer. Golf courses have been empty. College commencements have been frigid affairs, with one Boston College graduate Monday wrapping her feet in the ceremonial hood that went with her gown. Boots, fuzzy winter boots, were seen on a walker in Milton yesterday.

Happiness has also taken a hit. Psychologists say the dark weather can trigger a minor ''seasonal affective disorder" that may manifest itself in oversleeping, irritability, a lack of motivation, and general annoyance not only with the ribbons of gray in the sky but with colleagues, fellow commuters, and family members.

''People can feel like they are not really able to enjoy themselves even when they do things they really like," said Anthony Piro, chief social worker in psychiatry at Mount Auburn Hospital in Cambridge.

In fact, the only people who appeared excited about the weather yesterday were a group of weather specialists at the Blue Hill Observatory in Milton, including chief observer Bob Skilling, who arrived at work at 5:30 a.m., an hour early, to calculate the weather records. He doesn't like gloom, either, but he loves record-breakers.

Skilling says the month has already hit one all-time record: This has been the only May in 120 years of Blue Hill record-keeping in which temperatures rose above 70 degrees on just one day, May 11.

So far, this is the third-coldest May on record, with an average temperature of 49.7 degrees. Normal is 57 degrees. By the end of yesterday, the sun had shone brightly only 37.4 percent of the time, the fourth-lowest number on record. Typically in May, the sun shines 52 percent of the time.

While the National Weather Service has no official definition for gloomy, Skilling said that considering both temperature and lack of sunshine, this month could be a contender for the second-gloomiest May in record-keeping history. He considers 1917 the worst: an average temperature of 46 degrees with the sun shining only 39 percent of the time.

As rain beat against the observatory's windows yesterday morning, Skilling offered, ''I figure if we went through all this, we might as well break a record."

Normally, weather patterns move across the United States from west to east, blowing stormy weather offshore.

But a high-pressure system off Greenland is acting as a blockade, pushing the bad weather back onto New England.

''It is caught," said Dunham. The northeaster, the second this month, was expected to bring coastal flooding during high tides through tonight.

Meteorologists said power outages could occur throughout today, and with nearly 2,000 NStar workers on strike, that particular gloominess could last a while.

''There is the possibility of delays [in getting power back on] if there is widespread damage from the storm," said NStar spokeswoman Caroline Allen.

Along Quincy's Wollaston Beach yesterday, patios were barren of umbrellas and chairs. Roy Kandalaft, co-owner of Tony's Clam Shop, opened by his father 41 years ago, described this as the worst string of opening-season weather he's seen. With fishermen reluctant to go fishing, seafood prices are climbing, he said.

''You can really never make up what you lost," said Kandalaft, who co-owns the restaurant with his brother Gary. At the Clam Box down the street, owner Todd Schwanke said he is trying to take the long view.

''It's just May," Schwanke said. ''I've been telling customers that if this weather continues through next week, [then] I'll be worried."

June starts next Wednesday.

Globe correspondent Scott Goldstein and staff reporter Marcella Bombardieri contributed to this report. Beth Daley can be reached at bdaley@globe.com.

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