When does winter start?

autumn season

With a few days of the Autumn left I’m wondering how to define the first day of winter. Well it depends on whether you are referring to the astronomical or meteorological winter.

The day in our calendar that marks the first day of winter usually refers to the astronomical seasons which are a result of the Earth’s axis and orbit around the sun. However, at the Met Office we often use a meteorological definition of the seasons. Let’s take a brief overview of the difference.

Meteorological and astronomical seasons

Astronomical seasons are relative to the position of the Earth’s orbit around the sun taking into account equinoxes and solstices. Meteorological seasons are instead based on annual temperature cycles measuring the meteorological state and coinciding with the Gregorian calendar to determine a clear transition and equal length seasons.

Meteorological winter season

The meteorological winter begins on 1 December 2017 and will end on 28 February 2018.

The meteorological seasons consists of splitting the seasons into four periods made up of three months each. These seasons are split to coincide with our Gregorian calendar making it easier for meteorological observing and forecasting to compare seasonal and monthly statistics. By the meteorological calendar, winter always starts on 1 December.

The seasons are defined as spring (March, April, May), summer (June, July, August), autumn (September, October, November) and winter (December, January, February).

Astronomical winter season

The astronomical winter begins on 21 December 2017 and ends on 20 March 2018.

The astronomical calendar determines the seasons due to the 23.5 degree tilt of the Earth’s rotational axis in relation to its orbit around the sun. Both equinoxes and solstices are related to the Earth’s orbit around the sun.

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