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8 interesting facts about Winter

Winter

Its the time of year when the earth's axis is most tilted away from the sun giving us the coldest season of the year when the UK weather becomes characterised by unsettled and windy weather.

Winter is a fascinating time of year and we've got 8 interesting facts about the season.

 

1. Winter is coming

There are two different dates when Winter could be said to begin, depending on whether we are referring to the Meteorological or Astronomical winter.

Winter defined by the Earth's orbit around the sun, begins on the The Equinox and Solstice which falls on 21 or 22 December.

However, when recording and comparing climate data, it is important to have set dates that can be compared and so for this reason a fixed date of the 1 December is used to mark the start of the meteorological Winter.

2. Earth is closest to the sun in Winter

You might surprised to know that in the northern hemisphere the earth is closest to the sun during winter.

On January 2 2016 the Earth will reach perihelion (peri meaning 'near' and helion meaning 'sun') and the earth is 3.1 million miles closer to the sun than at aphelion (around July 5 when the earth is furthest from the sun).

Earth's distance from the sun is not what causes the seasons (it is the The Equinox and Solstice) but it does affect the length of them. Around perihelion the earth is moving around 1 kilometre per second faster than at aphelion which results in winter being 5 days shorter than summer.

Earth's orbit around the sun showing perihelion and aphelion

3. Coldest temperature recorded in Winter

The coldest temperature ever recorded during  a UK winter was -27.2 °C which was recorded in the village of Braemar in the Scottish Highlands.

The same temperature has been recorded twice, first on 11 February 1895 and again on 10 January 1982.

Hoar frost

4. The winter of 1963

The winter of 1963 is one of the coldest on record and the coldest on since 1740. Temperatures consistently reached lower than - 20 °C with blizzards, snow drifts and even the sea freezing around the coast.

The severe cold began just before Christmas in 1962 as a high pressure system sat to the north east of the UK for much of the winter dragging cold polar winds over the UK.

On 29 and 30 December, Blizzard struck the UK with snowdrifts up to 6 metres deep. Snow continued to fall frequently and until early-March 1963, much of the UK remained covered in snow.

A farm near Burnley during the winter of 1963. Photo: Richard Johnson

5. The roots of winter

The word winters comes from the Germanic wintar which in turn is derived from the root wed  meaning 'wet' or water', and so signifying a wet season.

In Anglo-Saxon cultures, years were counted by the winters, so a person calf could be said to be '2 winters old'. The first day of winter was also of symbolic importance named Vetrardag and falling comparatively early in the year between October 10th and 16th.

Misty winter

6. Wet snow vs. dry snow

Ever wondered why sometimes snow sticks together and sometimes is powdery and loose? The reason for this lies in the snowflakes journey as it falls through the atmosphere.

Snowflakes that fall through a dry, cool atmosphere will be small and powdery and won't stick together. We call this dry snow - its ideal for snowflakes, but not for building a snowman.

The snowflakes that form wet snow will have fallen through temperatures slightly warmer than 0 °C. As they fall, the snowflakes melt slightly around the edges and stick together to form large, heavy flakes. This sticks together easily and is the best for a snowball fight and making snow men.

7. Reindeer vision

Some Reindeer living above the Arctic Circle live in complete darkness for several weeks of the year.

To adapt to this, a small area of tissue behind the retina called the tapetum lucidum changes colour from a gold colour in summer months to blue in winter. This allows the reindeers eye's to detect ultraviolet light and to see in the dark.

Reindeer

8. How much water is there in snow?

The exact amount of water contained in snow can vary quite significantly depending on how the snow formed, but as a general average, every 12 cm of snow would provide 1 cm of water.

Amount of water in snow

Last updated: Dec 2, 2015 12:46 PM