Winter is the season that occurs in climates that are temperate and polar as opposed to tropical. It is the coldest season among all the four seasons. It is between autumn and spring; before spring and after autumn. During this time, temperatures are freezing and it is normally associated with snow. This gets extreme as one gets near to the poles. The times of the year when winter occurs differs between the northern and southern hemispheres. When it is winter in the northern hemisphere, it is summer in the southern hemisphere and vice versa. In winter, the length of days and nights vary with shortening days and longer nights. This comes to a head during winter solstice. This is the day when there is the longest night and the shortest day of the winter.
In history, winter has been associated with different cultures, beliefs and celebrations (Tuthill, 2016). The Persian culture has for thousands of years been celebrating winter solstice. It is regarded as the day before the birth of Mithra, a divinity associated with goodness, light and strength. According to Greek mythology, winter is caused by Demeter, a goddess, being depressed because her daughter Persephone has been kidnapped by Hades. According to the Welsh mythology, the fight between Gwyn ap Nudd and Gwythyr ap Greidawl over a maiden called Creiddylad represents winter and summer. Some of the noted winters for their exceptional coldness and results are the winters of 1683 – 1684 also known as The Great Frost, 1739 – 1740 which was during the Irish famine, 1815 – 1816 which happened in the year called a year without summer due to the eruption of Indonesia’s mount Tambora and 1887 – 1888. Winters are getting comparatively warmer currently (Hubert, 2002).
In noting, recognizing, defining and measuring winter, a number of methods are used. One of the methods is meteorology method. In this method, a record of weather patterns is used. This record takes cognizance of latitude. Using this method, every calendar year has three months that will have the lowest temperatures. These months are December, January and February for the northern hemisphere and June, July and August for the southern hemisphere. These months are defined as winter. Night occupies more hours in a day. Some areas experience their highest rate of precipitation and dampness because of the existence of snow and a prolonged coldness that precludes evaporation. Other areas experience blizzards which affects transportation. In temperatures close to -400C, there is the presence of ice needles which are hexagonal shaped ice crystals. In comparing the northern and the southern hemispheres; northern hemisphere winters have more ice and snow because land masses there are large, southern hemisphere’s winters are milder because there is less land mass. This confines ice and snow in the southern hemisphere to elevated regions like mountains and ranges. Another method for defining winter is through astronomy and use of calendar. In some areas in the northern hemisphere, winter is defined by use of the earth’s position relative to its orbit around the sun. This type of defining winter does not take into account the weather conditions present. One way of using astronomy to define winter is stating that it begins at the winter solstice and ends with the vernal equinox. As can be noted, this timeline for winter is different than the one used by meteorologists. Scandinavia’s use of calendar define winter as beginning October 14th and ends on the last day of February. Russia’s winter would start on December 1st and also end on the last day of February. In the southern hemisphere, numerous areas like Australia and New Zealand define winter as starting on June 1st and end on August 31st. In mainland Europe, winter is normally heralded to start on November 11 and end on February 14. In some Asian countries like China, winter is said to start on November 7. The other way that is used to define winter is through ecological method. In this, there is no use of fixed dates like the calendar method. Instead, winter is one of the six ecological seasons as recognized by ecologists. The term ecologists use for winter is hibernal. According to ecological method, winter starts when there is dormancy of biological creatures and ends when dormancy ends and there is flowering. This means the dates for winter differ depending on region.
Winter is a part of the four seasons and the cause of seasons is the earth’s tilt in relation to the earth’s plane of orbit (NASA, 2016). In its orbit, the earth tilts at an angle of 23.440. This results in different latitudes facing the sun directly which brings about seasons. This explains why when it is winter in the northern hemisphere, it is summer in the southern hemisphere and vice versa. During winter on one hemisphere, it means the other hemisphere is facing the sun more directly. In winter, the sun is in a lower altitude. This makes its rays hit the earth at an oblique angle spreading solar radiation over a bigger area.
In order to survive the harsh weather conditions in winter, many animals adapt. One of these adaptations is migration. In this, the animals leave to warmer areas and return when winter ends. This they do every cycle. The most famous of the migratory animals are the birds. Some birds are known to travel thousands of kilometers to areas in Africa and Central and Southern America during winter in the northern hemisphere. Other animals adapt to winter by hibernating. In this state, the animals reduce their metabolism significantly until the end of winter. They are described as they are asleep during winter. Animals that adapt like this include bats, snakes and frogs. Some animals burrow deep underground and store food to survive with during winter as opposed to hibernating. These include badgers, beavers and squirrels. In yet another adaptation, some animals, especially those covered in fur, they grow a heavier coat of fur which improves their ability to retain heat generated by their body. Shedding of the fur happens when winter ends. Unlike animals, not many plants survive winter. They however have mechanisms to deal with it. There are the annual plants that finish their life cycle before winter arrives. Some small plants get buried under the snow for insulation. Some trees let their above ground parts go dormant during winter (Halfpenny & Ozanne, 1989).
Human beings are not equipped biologically to adapt to winter. This is because the evolution of humans has mainly been in the tropical climate areas. We are sensitive to cold. We suffer from a number of complications due to cold like hypothermia, seasonal depression and snow blindness. For the homeless, especially in the northern hemisphere, winter brings about a number of deaths due to hypothermia.
- Halfpenny, J., & Ozanne, R. (1989). Winter: An Ecological Handbook. Big Earth Publishing.
- Hubert, L. (2002). Climate, History and the Modern World. Routledge.
- NASA. (2016, October 27). What causes the seasons? Retrieved from NASA Space Place: https://spaceplace.nasa.gov/seasons/en/
- Tuthill, S. (2016, April 2). Winter tales and myths: Where did Old Man Winter, Jack Frost come from? Retrieved from AccuWeather: https://www.accuweather.com/en/weather-news/winter-jack-frost-myth/21183076