Who do we share the term ‘sunbreak’ with?

Feb 11, 2024, 6:00 AM


Sunbreaks are cherished moments at this time of year in the Pacific Northwest. (Getty Images)

(Getty Images)

The days are getting longer, with about 3 minutes of more daylight each day. Yet, sunbreaks are still a welcome sight during the frequent cloudy ‘dark’ days of the winter season.

But where did the term sunbreak originate?

The term itself describes the sun peeking through a nearly solid cloud cover. Here is a look at the history of the term sunbreak.

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Great Britain has a climate quite similar to Western Washington. The Atlantic Ocean helps provide a moderate climate there, not too cold in the winter and not too hot in the summer. The storm track across the Atlantic helps maintain periods of cloudy and wet weather in Great Britain during the cold season, much like the storm track off the Pacific Ocean does here.

There is some debate about when the term sunbreak was first used. Scotland history shows the term was initially used in the 17th century, while the Oxford English Dictionary notes earliest evidence of its use was in 1822.

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The 2019 film – The Professor and the Madman – starring Mel Gibson and Sean Penn, told a story behind the research and development of the Oxford English Dictionary starting in the latter part of the 19th century. That research and development included the weather term – sunbreak.

Like those in Western Washington, the British know when the sun appears between the clouds, it is a precious and celebrated moment. Many British bands have produced songs about these admired events. One of the most famous bands – The Beatles – produced the popular song ‘Here Comes the Sun Again.’

During the cold season from October into spring, many in Western Washington enjoy the sun when it breaks through the clouds. So the term sunbreak applies quite well here as well as in Great Britain.

Ted Buehner is KIRO Newsradio’s meteorologist.

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Who do we share the term ‘sunbreak’ with?