Winter Solstice: A Time to Celebrate

By: Angela Fritz , 07:23 PM GMT del 21 Dicembre 2011

Share this Blog
10
+



Tomorrow, December 22nd, is the Winter Solstice: the shortest day of the year, and what we like to refer to as the first day of winter.

But what does that really mean? Hasn't winter already started? In the U.S., it came in with a bang but has since tapered off to a whimper. One week ago, on December 14th, the only place that fell below zero was Big Piney, Wyoming with a low of -2°F. That's pretty mild for December in the lower 48!

But in Europe, winter has already taken its toll. Last week, winter storm "Joachim" tore through western Europe, leaving as much as 5 feet of snow in its wake. Joachim's lowest central pressure got down to 963.8mb, and wind gusts up to 105mph (175 kph) were recorded.

From Christopher C. Burt's blog on Joachim:

Widespread wind damage in northern France brought down power lines resulting in 400,000 homes losing electricity. A large Maltese cargo ship, the TK Bremen, was washed ashore by 25-foot English Channel seas landing on the coast of Brittany. The crew was safe but some 200 tons of fuel oil leaked from the vessel.


So why do we wait so long to declare winter?

The first day of "meteorological winter" is December 1. Meteorologists like to break the year up into three-month chunks, which happen to coincide with the four seasons. Winter, for us, is December, January, and February. But traditionally, the rest of the world declares that winter begins on this, the shortest day of the year.

At 12:30am ET (5:30am GMT) on December 22, the sun is directly over the Tropic of Capricorn, which is 23.5 degrees south of the equator. For the Northern Hemisphere, the sun on this day is at the lowest point from in the sky for the entire year. The word "solstice" comes from the Latin word "solstitium," which literally means "the sun is standing."


During the Northern Hemisphere's Winter Solstice, the sun is centered over the Tropic of Capricorn—23.5° south. (Image source: Wikipedia)


For places in the Southern Hemisphere like Australia, Chile, Brazil, and southern Africa, it's the longest day of the year, and they're (usually) basking in warm summer weather.

But for us in the Northern Hemisphere, we're trying to get through a brutal winter that's only just started. Although the days will get longer from now until June, we won't see the temperatures and snow turn the corner until March. That's because temperature tends to lag the amount of sunlight we receive. The lowest temperatures are recorded about a month after the winter solstice, and the highest temperatures about a month after the summer solstice in the third week of June.

It's no surprise that many of our most important festivals and celebrations fall close to the winter solstice. It's the time when the nights get shorter and the days get longer, and culturally it symbolizes rebirth. Today begins the trend of longer days, shorter nights, and the migration of the Sun back to the Northern Hemisphere.

So, there's something to help you get through the rest of winter. Summer is just around the corner.

Angela

Reader Comments

Comments will take a few seconds to appear.

Post Your Comments

Please sign in to post comments.

or Join

Not only will you be able to leave comments on this blog, but you'll also have the ability to upload and share your photos in our Wunder Photos section.

Display: 0, 50, 100, 200 Sort: Newest First - Order Posted

Viewing: 27 - 1

Page: 1 — Blog Index

27. Angela Fritz , Atmospheric Scientist (Admin)
12:06 AM GMT del 30 Dicembre 2011
If you haven't seen it yet, check out Chris Burt's new blog on the Antarctica record warm temp.
26. Patrap
12:00 AM GMT del 30 Dicembre 2011
Member Since: Luglio 3, 2005 Posts: 428 Comments: 129844
25. Angela Fritz , Atmospheric Scientist (Admin)
11:55 PM GMT del 29 Dicembre 2011
Yep, thanks! Sometimes it's a good idea to take a media request on your day off. :) The article was picked up a bunch of different places, including MSNBC and the Daily Mail. People love the fridge analogy... and so do I!
24. presslord
02:24 PM GMT del 28 Dicembre 2011
Quoting Neapolitan:
Angela, I see where you're quoted at length in this Christian Science Monitor article. Excellent!



and...the article also sticks it's finger firmly into the eye of Accuguess...
Member Since: Agosto 13, 2007 Posts: 0 Comments: 10492
23. Neapolitan
01:26 PM GMT del 28 Dicembre 2011
Angela, I see where you're quoted at length in this Christian Science Monitor article. Excellent!
Member Since: novembre 8, 2009 Posts: 4 Comments: 13800
22. AtHomeInTX
05:48 PM GMT del 27 Dicembre 2011

Quoting angelafritz:


I really do hope you get your rain!

Thanks Angela! We got a good bit the last couple of days. Today, for the first time in many, the sun is shining brightly! It's up to 54 headed for the 60's and 70's later in the week. =)  It really is amazing the difference in temps when our side of the planet turns away from the sun. Hope your holidays are going well.
Member Since: Agosto 24, 2010 Posts: 0 Comments: 253
21. spbloom
11:52 PM GMT del 25 Dicembre 2011
Further to that, 1911maker, this gives a pretty good idea of the wringer the land sinks are about to be put through. Conversion from forest to savanna, savanna to grassland, grassland to desert, and tundra to shrub/grassland all involve major losses of carbon. For a recent close-up example of what this sort of thing looks like, notice how badly the TX tree population got hammered this year. There's nothing pretty about the conversion process.

I'm not really an Xmas-spirit type of person, but if I were this stuff would take it right out of me.
Member Since: Maggio 12, 2010 Posts: 0 Comments: 430
20. spbloom
09:38 PM GMT del 25 Dicembre 2011
Quoting Patrap:



Wishing you and Your's the Very Best this Christmas Season Angela, and thank you for all the Wunderful entries here..

Merry Christmas from Uptown NOLA




David Bowie and Bing Crosby together...

Is that a streetcar named Surreal, P? :)
Member Since: Maggio 12, 2010 Posts: 0 Comments: 430
19. spbloom
09:37 PM GMT del 25 Dicembre 2011
Quoting 1911maker:
Angela, if you find those charts again please share. :)

This link was provided by Skyepony on Dr. M blog (thanks Sky)
HIPPO reveals climate surprises
Link

.....
Currently, land plants and the oceans absorb roughly half of all carbon dioxide emitted, notes Britton Stephens, a scientist with the National Center on Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colo. But details on which parts of which ecosystems do it, under what circumstances and how efficiently remains somewhat of an open book. Simply put: %u201CWe don%u2019t understand their behavior at the current time well enough to predict their behavior into the future,%u201D he says. ...............


This article gives me a rough answer to my question. It is the %u201CWe don%u2019t understand their behavior at the current time well enough to predict their behavior into the future,%u201D that is worrisome.

If those factors reach saturation, the atmospheric co2 goes up faster, assuming that the models use the current rate of absorption for predicting increases of CO2 in the air.


Just to be clear, that's *not* the assumption they make. Rather, they assume that the sink absorption rate will increase as the partial pressure of CO2 increases. So far that's how it's actually worked. If and when (well, when, I'm afraid) we start seeing substantial sink saturation (some is already happening on land), the rate of sink absorption will still be increasing, just not fast enough. Given the poor long-term outlook for the land sink (warming and drought not being so good for plants as it turns out), and the fact that based on past behavior ocean absorption will tend to pick up that slack (since as noted much of the the ocean absorption is basically a function of the partial pressure of CO2, and CO2 not absorbed by the land sinks will increase the partial pressure and so the ocean absorption rate), any sign of a reduction of the rate of absorption in the oceans is bad, bad news, so a very close eye is being kept on it. Such a change would not be expected to be even, and IIRC some recent research found early signs of it in the far southern Indian Ocean, but it seems to be not clear yet as to whether there's a long-term trend there.
Member Since: Maggio 12, 2010 Posts: 0 Comments: 430
18. Angela Fritz , Atmospheric Scientist (Admin)
05:21 AM GMT del 25 Dicembre 2011
Quoting AtHomeInTX:
Thank you Angela. It's a nice warm story to read on this rainy, cold, dark Christmas Eve. I'll be a good sport. I know we need many more days of rain. But I am looking forward to more hours of light if not all out sunshine! Then again talk to me by the next solstice and I may have changed my tune. Lol. Enjoy the holidays.  :-)


I really do hope you get your rain!
17. BaltimoreBrian
06:41 PM GMT del 24 Dicembre 2011
Merry Christmas and Merry Sol Invictus, Angela.
Member Since: Agosto 9, 2011 Posts: 26 Comments: 8884
16. Some1Has2BtheRookie
06:33 PM GMT del 24 Dicembre 2011
I wish to thank each of you for your many splendid posts, knowledge, companionship and general great fun. The present I wish to give to us all is a Very Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays and may 2012 be the best year of your life. May we all remain safe, happy and well! .. I look forward to seeing each of you in the coming year. To my extended family, on this blog, all the best.

Merry Christmas, Angela!
Member Since: Agosto 24, 2010 Posts: 0 Comments: 4772
15. AtHomeInTX
03:31 PM GMT del 24 Dicembre 2011
Thank you Angela. It's a nice warm story to read on this rainy, cold, dark Christmas Eve. I'll be a good sport. I know we need many more days of rain. But I am looking forward to more hours of light if not all out sunshine! Then again talk to me by the next solstice and I may have changed my tune. Lol. Enjoy the holidays.  :-)
Member Since: Agosto 24, 2010 Posts: 0 Comments: 253
14. 1911maker
09:12 PM GMT del 23 Dicembre 2011
Angela, if you find those charts again please share. :)

This link was provided by Skyepony on Dr. M blog (thanks Sky)
HIPPO reveals climate surprises
Link

.....
Currently, land plants and the oceans absorb roughly half of all carbon dioxide emitted, notes Britton Stephens, a scientist with the National Center on Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colo. But details on which parts of which ecosystems do it, under what circumstances and how efficiently remains somewhat of an open book. Simply put: %u201CWe don%u2019t understand their behavior at the current time well enough to predict their behavior into the future,%u201D he says. ...............


This article gives me a rough answer to my question. It is the %u201CWe don%u2019t understand their behavior at the current time well enough to predict their behavior into the future,%u201D that is worrisome.

If those factors reach saturation, the atmospheric co2 goes up faster, assuming that the models use the current rate of absorption for predicting increases of CO2 in the air.
Member Since: Febbraio 25, 2011 Posts: 0 Comments: 474
13. airman45
07:00 PM GMT del 23 Dicembre 2011
Hope it wouldn't turn us into Venus!
Member Since: Aprile 2, 2007 Posts: 0 Comments: 3509
12. Angela Fritz , Atmospheric Scientist (Admin)
05:32 PM GMT del 23 Dicembre 2011
Thank you all! I hope you all have a great holiday!

Quoting 1911maker:
Angela,

I am curious what the atmospheric CO2 would be right now if the oceans had not been "sucking" some of it up. Do you have this info ready to hand?

thanks for any help you can provide, my Googling was not fruitful.............

have a good holiday.


That's a great question. I remember seeing absorption charts at one point. It's a multi-variable curve, depends on temp of water, air, co2 concentration (even how much algae/co2 eating organisms are present), etc. But would be an interesting exercise to remove the oceans from the system and see what happens!
11. 1911maker
10:39 PM GMT del 22 Dicembre 2011
Angela,

I am curious what the atmospheric CO2 would be right now if the oceans had not been "sucking" some of it up. Do you have this info ready to hand?

thanks for any help you can provide, my Googling was not fruitful.............

have a good holiday.
Member Since: Febbraio 25, 2011 Posts: 0 Comments: 474
10. Grothar
08:58 PM GMT del 22 Dicembre 2011
Angela, thanks for all your interesting posts this past year and the great images you post. Have a Happy Holiday.

Member Since: Luglio 17, 2009 Posts: 71 Comments: 27208
9. Patrap
08:04 PM GMT del 22 Dicembre 2011



Wishing you and Your's the Very Best this Christmas Season Angela, and thank you for all the Wunderful entries here..

Merry Christmas from Uptown NOLA


Member Since: Luglio 3, 2005 Posts: 428 Comments: 129844
8. 1911maker
04:49 PM GMT del 22 Dicembre 2011
Link

Happy winter solstice
Member Since: Febbraio 25, 2011 Posts: 0 Comments: 474
7. airman45
01:56 PM GMT del 22 Dicembre 2011
Thanks very much!
Member Since: Aprile 2, 2007 Posts: 0 Comments: 3509
6. Angela Fritz , Atmospheric Scientist (Admin)
09:46 PM GMT del 21 Dicembre 2011
Quoting airman45:
Am I correct in calculating the height of the noon sun above the horizon on Dec 22nd at my latitude?


Yep, that's right!
5. presslord
09:35 PM GMT del 21 Dicembre 2011
The word "solstice" comes from the Latin word "solstitium," which literally means "the sun is standing."


This, ladies and gentlemen, is a dead giveaway. I'll bet you a significant chunk of change that my girl went to Catholic school...
Member Since: Agosto 13, 2007 Posts: 0 Comments: 10492
4. presslord
09:33 PM GMT del 21 Dicembre 2011
This. is. my. favorite. day. of. the. year.

Can we start a movement to abolish the time change?
Member Since: Agosto 13, 2007 Posts: 0 Comments: 10492
3. Some1Has2BtheRookie
08:09 PM GMT del 21 Dicembre 2011
I live for the Sun and I welcome its gradual return to more dominance in the northern hemisphere.

Nice visual. I sometimes forget that the Equator also tilts. Illogical, I know. Perhaps "old timers disease" plays a part in this? ... I just can't seem to remember if that is the case or not.
Member Since: Agosto 24, 2010 Posts: 0 Comments: 4772
2. airman45
08:08 PM GMT del 21 Dicembre 2011
Joachim was quite a storm. Measured 978 mb (28.85 inches) at my house and I was a ways south of the center. Lowest I've ever seen here. Wind gusts were 52 mph at Stuttgart airport. Higher elevations in the Alps had over 100 mph gusts.
Member Since: Aprile 2, 2007 Posts: 0 Comments: 3509
1. airman45
08:04 PM GMT del 21 Dicembre 2011
Am I correct in calculating the height of the noon sun above the horizon on Dec 22nd at my latitude?

Latitude 48.5 degrees north (southern Germany)
90 degrees-48.5=41.5.
41.5-23.5 (sun south of the equator)=18.
So the noon sun on Dec 22nd is only 18 degrees above the horizon. It does look like a late afternoon sun.
Member Since: Aprile 2, 2007 Posts: 0 Comments: 3509

Viewing: 27 - 1

Page: 1 — Blog Index

Top of Page

About angelafritz

Atmospheric Scientist here at Weather Underground, with serious nerd love for tropical cyclones and climate change. Twitter: @WunderAngela

Local Weather

Mostly Cloudy
63 °F
Molto nuvoloso

angelafritz's Recent Photos

please archive
Flowers on Mount Tamalpais
TESTING
test