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Winter is the coldest season of the year in temperate climates, between autumn and spring. At the winter solstice, the days are shortest and the nights are longest, with days lengthening as the season progresses after the solstice.
Some authorities attempt to define an astronomical winter, often offset, which is based solely on the position of the Earth in its orbit around the sun. The start of an astronomical winter remains constant in each hemisphere regardless weather conditions, but varies with culture.
Meteorological winter is the method of measuring the winter season used by meteorologists based on "sensible weather patterns" for record keeping purposes, so the start of meteorological winter can change depending on how far north one lives. Winter is often defined by meteorologists to be the three calendar months with the lowest average temperatures. This corresponds to the months of December, January and February in the Northern Hemisphere, and June, July and August in the Southern Hemisphere. The coldest average temperatures of the season are typically experienced in January in the Northern hemisphere and in June or July in the Southern hemisphere. Nighttime predominates the winter season, and in some regions it has the highest rate of precipitation as well as prolonged dampness because of permanent snow cover or high precipitation rates coupled with low temperatures, precluding evaporation. Blizzards often develop and cause many transportation delays. A rare meteorological phenomenon encountered during winter is ice fog, which comprises ice crystals suspended in the air; it occurs only at very low temperatures, below –30°C (–22°F).
Accumulations of snow and ice are mostly associated with winter in the Northern Hemisphere, due to the large land masses there. In the Southern Hemisphere, the more maritime climate and the relative lack of land south of 40°S makes the winters milder; thus, snow and ice are less common in inhabited regions of the Southern Hemisphere. In this region, snow occurs every year in elevated regions such as the Andes, the Great Dividing Range in Australia, and the mountains of New Zealand, and also occurs in the southerly Patagonia region of South America. Snow occurs year-round in Antarctica.
Astronomically, the winter solstice, being the day of the year which has fewest hours of daylight, ought to be the middle of the season, but seasonal lag means that the coldest period normally follows the solstice by a few weeks. In the USA (and sometimes in Britain) the season is regarded as beginning at the solstice and ending on the following equinox — in the Northern Hemisphere, depending on the year, this corresponds to the period between 21 or 22 December and 20 or 21 March. In the UK, meteorologists consider winter to be the three coldest months of December, January and February. In Scandinavia, winter traditionally begins on 14 October and ends on the last day of February. In many countries in the Southern Hemisphere, including Australia, New Zealand and South Africa, winter begins on 1 June and ends on 31 August. In Celtic nations such as Ireland (using the Irish calendar) and in Scandinavia, the winter solstice is traditionally considered as midwinter, with the winter season beginning 1 November, on All Hallows, or Samhain. Winter ends and spring begins on Imbolc, or Candlemas, which is 1 or 2 February . This system of seasons is based on the length of days exclusively. (The three-month period of the shortest days and weakest solar radiation occurs during November, December, and January in the Northern Hemisphere and May through July in the Southern Hemisphere.)
Also, many mainland European countries tend to recognize Martinmas or St. Martin's Day (11 November), as the first calendar day of winter. The day falls at midpoint between the old Julian equinox and solstice dates. Also, Valentine's Day (14 February) is recognized by some countries as heralding the first rites of spring, such as flowers blooming.
The three-month period associated with the coldest average temperatures typically begins somewhere in late November or early December in the Northern Hemisphere and lasts through late February or early March. This "thermological winter" is earlier than the solstice delimited definition, but later than the daylight (Celtic) definition. Depending on seasonal lag, this period will vary between climatic regions.
Cultural influences such as Christmas creep may have led to the winter season being perceived as beginning earlier in recent years, although high latitude countries like Canada and Russia are usually well into their real winters before the December solstice.
Sporting influences can be seen in the UK and Europe, also helping to perceive winter even earlier. In England, the Barclays Premier League switches out the typical White Nike Strike ball for the Nike Seitiro Hi-Vis ball when conditions and visibility begin to deteriorate. In the 2011/12 season, the Premier League began using the 'Hi-Vis ball' on the 5th November. "The Nike Seitiro Hi-Vis ball is engineered to stand out on pitch when conditions are not ideal." The Spanish La Liga and Italian Serie A also saw a change for the new Hi-Vis ball the weekend before England.
The tilt of the Earth's axis relative to its orbital plane plays a big role in the weather. The Earth is tilted at an angle of 23.44° to the plane of its orbit, and this causes different latitudes on the Earth to directly face the Sun as the Earth moves through its orbit. It is this variation that primarily brings about the seasons. When it is winter in the Northern Hemisphere, the Southern Hemisphere faces the Sun more directly and thus experiences warmer temperatures than the Northern Hemisphere. Conversely, winter in the Southern Hemisphere occurs when the Northern hemisphere is tilted more toward the Sun. From the perspective of an observer on the Earth, the winter Sun has a lower maximum altitude in the sky than the summer Sun.
During winter in either hemisphere, the lower altitude of the Sun in winter causes the sunlight to hit that hemisphere at an oblique angle. In regions experiencing winter, the same amount of solar radiation is spread out over a larger area. This effect is compounded by the larger distance that the light must travel through the atmosphere, allowing the atmosphere to dissipate more heat. Compared with these effects, the changes in the distance of the earth from the sun are negligible.
Exceptionally cold winters
- 1683–84, "The Great Frost", when the Thames, hosting one of many River Thames frost fairs, was frozen all the way up to the London Bridge and remained frozen for about two months. Ice was about 27 cm (11 in) thick in London and about 120 cm (47 in) thick in Somerset. The sea froze up to 2 miles (3.2 km) out around the coast of the southern North Sea, causing severe problems for shipping and preventing use of many harbors.
- 1739–40, one of the most severe winters in the UK on record. The Thames remained frozen-over for about 8 weeks.
- 1816 was the Year Without a Summer in the Northern Hemisphere. The unusual coolness of the winter of 1815–16 and of the following summer was primarily due to the eruption of Mount Tambora in Indonesia, in April 1815. There were secondary effects from an unknown eruption or eruptions around 1810, and several smaller eruptions around the world between 1812 and 1814. The cumulative effects were worldwide, but were especially strong in the Eastern USA, Atlantic Canada, and Northern Europe. Frost formed in May in New England, killing many newly-planted crops, and the summer never recovered. Snow fell in New York and Maine in June, and ice formed in lakes and rivers in July and August. In the UK, snow drifts remained on hills until late July, and the Thames froze in September. Agricultural crops failed and livestock died in much of the Northern Hemisphere, resulting in food shortages and the worst famine of the 19th century.
- 1887–88, there were record cold temperatures in the Upper Midwest, heavy snowfalls worldwide, and amazing storms, including the Schoolhouse Blizzard of 1888 (in the Midwest in January), and the Great Blizzard of 1888 (in the Eastern US and Canada in March).
- In Europe, the winters of early 1947, February 1956, 1962–63, 1981–82 and 2009–10 were abnormally cold. The UK winter of 1946–47 started out relatively normal, but became one of the snowiest UK winters to date, with nearly continuous snowfall from late January until March.
Other historically-significant winters
- 1310–1330, many severe winters and cold, wet summers in Europe – the first clear manifestation of the unpredictable weather of the Little Ice Age that lasted for several centuries (from about 1300 to 1900). The persistently cold, wet weather caused great hardship, was primarily responsible for the Great Famine of 1315–1317, and strongly contributed to the weakened immunity and malnutrition leading up to the Black Death (1348–1350).
- 1600–1602, extremely cold winters in Switzerland and Baltic region after eruption of Huaynaputina in Peru in 1600.
- 1607–08, in North America, ice persisted on Lake Superior until June. Londoners held their first frost fair on the frozen-over River Thames.
- 1622, in Turkey, the Golden Horn and southern section of Bosphorus froze over.
- 1690s, extremely cold, snowy, severe winters. Ice surrounded Iceland for miles in every direction.
- 1779–80, Scotland's coldest winter on record, and ice surrounded Iceland in every direction (like in the 1690s). In the USA, a record five-week cold spell bottomed out at −20 °F (−29 °C) at Hartford, Connecticut, and 16 °F (−9 °C) in New York City. Hudson River and New York's harbor froze over.
- 1783–86, the Thames partially froze, and snow remained on the ground for months. In February 1784, the North Carolina was frozen stuck in the Chesapeake Bay.
- 1794–95, severe winter, with the coldest January in the UK and lowest temperature ever recorded in London (−21 °C (−6 °F) on January 25). The cold began on Christmas Eve and lasted until late March, with a few temporary warm-ups. The Severn and Thames froze, and frost fairs started up again. The French fleet was able to invade the Netherlands over its frozen rivers, while the Dutch fleet was stuck in its harbor. The winter had Easterlies (from Siberia) as its dominant feature.
- 1813–14, severe cold, last freeze-over of Thames, and last frost fair. (Removal of old London Bridge and changes to river's banks made freeze-overs less likely.)
- 1883–1888, colder temperatures worldwide, including an unbroken string of abnormally cold and brutal winters in the Upper Midwest, related to the explosion of Krakatoa in August 1883. There was snow recorded in the UK as early as October and as late as July during this time period.
- 1976–77, one of the coldest winters in the US in decades.
- 1985, Arctic outbreak in US resulting from shift in polar vortex, with many cold temperature records broken.
- 2010–11, persistent bitter cold in the entire eastern half of the USA from December onward, with few or no mid-winter warm-ups, and with cool conditions continuing into spring. La Niña and negative Arctic oscillation were strong factors.
To survive the harshness of winter, many animals have developed different behavioral and morphological adaptations for overwintering:
- Migration is a common effect of winter upon animals, notably birds. However, the majority of birds do not migrate—the cardinal and European Robin, for example. Some butterflies also migrate seasonally.
- Hibernation is a state of reduced metabolic activity during the winter. Some animals "sleep" during winter and only come out when the warm weather returns; e.g., gophers, frogs, snakes, and bats.
- Some animals store food for the winter and live on it instead of hibernating completely. This is the case for squirrels, beavers, skunks, badgers, and raccoons.
- Resistance is observed when an animal endures winter but changes in ways such as color and musculature. The color of the fur or plumage changes to white (in order to be confused with snow) and thus retains its cryptic coloration year-round. Examples are the Rock Ptarmigan, arctic fox, weasel, white-tailed jackrabbit, and mountain hare.
- Some fur-coated mammals grow a heavier coat during the winter; this improves the heat-retention qualities of the fur. The coat is then shed following the winter season to allow better cooling. The heavier coat in winter made it a favorite season for trappers, who sought more profitable skins.
- Snow also affects the ways animals behave; many take advantage of the insulating properties of snow by burrowing in it. Mice and voles typically live under the snow layer.
Some annual plants never survive the winter. Other annual plants require winter cold to complete their life cycle, this is known as vernalization. As for perennials, many small ones profit from the insulating effects of snow by being buried in it. Larger plants, particularly deciduous trees, usually let their upper part go dormant, but their roots are still protected by the snow layer. Few plants bloom in the winter, one exception being the flowering plum, which flowers in time for Chinese New Year. The process by which plants become acclimated to cold weather is called hardening.
Mankind and winter
Humans evolved in tropical climate, and met cold weather as they migrated into Eurasia, although earlier populations certainly encountered Southern Hemisphere winters in Southern Africa. Micro-evolution in Caucasian, Asiatic and Inuit people show some adaptation to the climate.
Winter and human health
Humans are sensitive to cold, see hypothermia. Snowblindness, norovirus, seasonal depression, slipping on black ice and falling icicles are other health concerns associated with cold and snowy weather.
Winter and transportation
Snow can block railway lines, close airports (airplanes are often unable to move in dense fog) and block roads. Black ice is also a major threat on the roads at this time. Snow ploughs, road salt, grit, sand, hand tools (like shovels, brooms, etc.) and rock salt to help combat it.
Chinese New Year
The Chinese Spring Festival is the most important of the traditional Chinese holidays. It is often called the Lunar New Year, especially by people in mainland China, Taiwan, Singapore and Malaysia. The festival traditionally begins on the first day of the first month (Chinese: 正月; pinyin: zhēng yuè) in the Chinese calendar and ends on the 15th; this day is called Lantern Festival. Chinese New Year's Eve is known as Chúxī. It literally means "Year-pass Eve". The usual starting date is the second new moon after the winter solstice, i.e. between mid-January and mid-February in the Gregorian calendar.
Poush is the first winter month in the Bengali calendar. Poush Mela (meaning the fair of Poush) is a fair that takes place in different places of Bengal.
Many winter activities involve the use of snow in some form (which sometimes is man-made, using snow cannons):
- Bobsledding — a winter sport in which teams make timed runs down narrow, twisting, banked, purpose-built ice-covered tracks in a steerable sled.
- Skiing — the activity of gliding over snow using fiberglass planks called skis that are strapped to the skiers' feet with ski bindings.
- Sledding — a gravity-powered activity using a sled to glide downhill.
- Snow castle building — for example, constructions such as the SnowCastle of Kemi, the largest in the world.
- Snowball fight — a physical game in which snowballs are thrown with the intention of hitting someone else.
- Snowboarding — an increasingly common sport in which participants strap a composite board to their feet and slide down a snow-covered mountain.
- Snowman building — creating a manlike model out of snow.
- Snowmobiling — driving snowmobiles in snow, across frozen lakes, on public trails, or around mountains.
- Snowshoeing — a means of travel on top of the snow by increasing the surface area of the feet by wearing snowshoes.
- Winter camping - cooking, eating and sleeping outside in the snow during the winter. Those who winter camp build a shelter from evergreen tree boughs, dig a snow cave, create a quinzhee or sleep in a tent for shelter overnight.
Many other winter activities and sports focus on ice, which may be contained in an ice rink.
- Curling — a team sport using brooms and stones. The object of the game is to slide your stones in a bullseye and get your opponent's stones out of it.
- Ice biking — the continuation of regular cycling activities in the winter and cold weather.
- Ice boating — a means of travel in a specialized boat similar in appearance to a sailboat but fitted with skis or runners (skates) and designed to run over ice instead of (liquid) water.
- Ice climbing — the recreational activity of climbing ice formations such as icefalls and frozen waterfalls.
- Ice diving — a type of penetration diving where the dive takes place under ice.
- Ice fishing — the sport of catching fish with lines and hooks through an opening in the ice on a frozen body of water.
- Ice hockey — a team sport played on the ice with skates, sticks, and a puck. The goal is to send the puck into the opposing team's net.
- Ice racing — automobile racing on ice surfaces.
- Ice sculpture — elaborate sculptures are carved out of blocks of ice.
- Ice skating — a means of travelling on ice with skates, narrow (and sometimes parabolic) bladelike devices molded into special boots.
Use in art
Some use winter to suggest death, as in Robert Frost's "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening". In some cases it is also used to symbolise trash Jake Woodworth's poem collection. Some use it to suggest the absence of hope, as in C.S. Lewis' The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, where it was always winter but never Christmas. Winter is one concerto in Antonio Vivaldi's "The Four Seasons," and there are many examples of four paintings all showing the same scene in different seasons. Ursula K. LeGuin's novel The Left Hand of Darkness is set on a planet named Winter. In Alex Raymond's comic strip Flash Gordon, there is a land called Frigia, where it is always winter. The land of Frigia is also featured in the serial Flash Gordon Conquers the Universe. Other uses of winter in the graphic arts occur in Winsor McCay's Little Nemo in Slumberland. There are many films in which a winter setting plays an important role, Fargo being an example. Novels such as Ethan Frome also use a winter setting to mirror the bleak, frozen feelings that the characters harbor. The film Requiem for a Dream concludes with "Act III: Winter," in which the movie reaches its chilling climax. The final vignette in James Joyce's Dubliners, 'The Dead', employs a winter motif in conjunction with themes of regret and isolation.
In various cultures
In Persian culture the night starting winter is called Yalda (meaning: birth) and it has been celebrated for thousands of years. It is referred to as the eve of the birth of Mithra, the Sun God, who symbolised light, goodness and strength on earth. By the whiteness of Winter, the Sun (the white) rises again to fade away the darkness of the long night (Yalda). It is also believed that the last day of Winter (the white), which is the first day of Spring (also known as Nowrouz), is the day that all the "Good"s will over come all the "Bad"s for ever.
In Greek mythology, Hades kidnapped Persephone to be his wife. Zeus ordered Hades to return her to Demeter, the goddess of the Earth and her mother. However, Hades tricked Persephone into eating the food of the dead, so Zeus decreed that Persephone would spend six months with Demeter and six months with Hades. During the time her daughter is with Hades, Demeter became depressed and caused winter. In Welsh mythology, Gwyn ap Nudd abducted a maiden named Creiddylad. On May Day, her lover, Gwythr ap Greidawl, fought Gwyn to win her back. The battle between them represented the contest between summer and winter.
Old Man Winter is also known as Father Winter,
In Bangla the advent of winter is often expressed by the sentence-"Sheeter buri ashchhe dheye" which means "the winter old woman is coming fast" (Sheeter buri means the old woman winter). This is used especially when it is said to a child. Thus winter is personified in Bangla.
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- ^ NOAA Press Release
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- ^ Heck, Andre (2006). Organizations and strategies in Astronomy Volume 7. Springer. pp. 14. ISBN 101402053002. http://books.google.co.uk/books?id=YSsaxkeixH0C&pg=PA14&dq=astronomy+%2Bmidwinter#v=onepage&q=astronomy%20%2Bmidwinter&f=false.
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- ^ Meteorological Glossary. Retrieved 21 June 2009 from Australian Bureau of Meteorology: http://www.bom.gov.au/climate/glossary/seasons.shtml
- ^ Images from around Australia on first day of Winter 2009: http://www.abc.net.au/local/photos/2009/06/02/2583319.htm
- ^ http://www.premierleague.com/page/Headlines/0,,12306~2504681,00.html
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- ^ Winter of 1947
- ^ "Outdoor Action Guide to Winter Camping". Curtis, Rick , Outdoor Action Program, The Trustees of Princeton University. 05 Sep 2010. <http://www.princeton.edu/~oa/winter/wintcamp.shtml>
- Rosenthal, Norman E. (1998). Winter Blues. New York: The Guilford Press. ISBN 1-57230-395-6
- Winter of animals and plants in Finland by the Northern Nature Project
- Native American seasons myths from the Zion Natural History Association
Seasons Temperate seasons Tropical climate seasons Specific
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