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Astronomical winter to begin Wednesday with the shortest day of the year

Tuesday, December 20th, 2016 11:41am MDT
The Earth at the Winter Solstice. The Northern Hemisphere sees their shortest day of the year while the Southern Hemisphere gets its longest. (NASA)

The Earth at the Winter Solstice. The Northern Hemisphere sees their shortest day of the year while the Southern Hemisphere gets its longest. (NASA)

Astronomical winter arrives in Thornton early tomorrow morning and with the solstice also comes the shortest day of the year.

Winter officially begins at 3:44am on Wednesday, December 21, 2016. The Winter Solstice occurs when the North Pole is tilted at its furthest from the sun – 23.5 degrees away. This results in the shortest day of the year in the Northern Hemisphere.

Here in Denver, with sunrise at 7:18am and sunset at 4:39pm, our day Wednesday is 9 hours, 21 minutes and 14 seconds long. The day after it will be three seconds longer and each day from now through to the Summer Solstice in June will get gradually longer as well.

While we have a short day on the winter solstice, it is nothing like what will be experienced in the Arctic Circle.  Areas north of there to the North Pole will have no direct sunlight at all.  Conversely, areas south of the Antarctic Circle toward the South Pole will have 24 hours of daylight and have a midnight sun.

Did you know that there is a difference between the astronomical seasons that we are discussing here and meteorological seasons?

Meteorological seasons differ slightly and are geared toward matching the calendar with the annual temperature cycle. This is done primarily for meteorological observing and forecasting and in many ways it is more logical than the astronomical seasons.

For the Northern Hemisphere, the meteorological spring covers the months of March, April and May. Summer brings the hottest months of the year and so meteorological summer is June, July and August. Meteorological fall then is September, October and November followed by the coldest months of December, January and February as meteorological winter.

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