In the Winter Season

The winter season doesn't have to be tedious if you know what events to look for.


| December/January 1993


It's almost 1994, so I'll begin by wishing you "Happy New Year!" Every culture must choose a time in history at which to begin its count of years and days. But did you ever wonder why our culture chose to hold New Year's day during the winter season as opposed to spring, the time of rebirth? After all, societies such as the ancient Romans and even England (up until 1752) considered the spring equinox the most appropriate start of the new year, when sprouting and greening start taking place.

Many societies, including our own, have decided that the calendar year should be held at the start of the recovery period after the lowest growing point of the year. This low point, called winter solstice, is when the heavily populated north temperate zone of Earth experiences its shortest day; the Sun rises and sets farthest south.

But why January 1, which falls 10 or 11 days after the solstice? Probably because the length of the day and the southernness of the Sun changes only slightly in the weeks surrounding the solstice. In ancient times when the calendar was first established, it took observers over a week to realize that the nights were getting shorter after solstice, the Sun was setting farther north, and the celebration of the new year was truly justified.

Winter Weather

Thawing Out in January

Some of us can't help but focus on the brutal bite of cold during winter; others relish the world-transforming beauties that snow and ice bring. Either way, most of us living in regions with harsh winters find ourselves longing for at least a respite while awaiting spring. Can't we have a spell of milder weather just to give us a chance to recuperate? The answer is yes; amazingly, we can point our finger in advance to a specific period in the midst of winter when we stand an especially good chance of milder weather. The odd phenomenon is known as the "January thaw."

Perhaps you doubt the thaw's physical reality; you remember no such relief from the cold snap of January. Well, statistics show that between January 20 and 26 much of the United States — particularly the East and Midwest — have temperatures averaging several degrees higher than the month's average temperature. For a few days your thermometer may even climb many degrees above average.

However, before you get too excited, David M. Ludlum, dean of American weather historians, warns that we shouldn't count on the thaw; there are severe winters in which weather systems simply don't allow it to happen. Ludlum also notes the existence of a smaller and less frequently occurring rise in temperature between January 7 and 10.





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