The final month of the year is now upon us. Just like that it’s December. This is also the start of climatological or meteorological winter. Both climatologists and meteorologists consider the three months of December, January, and February as the coldest quarter of the year. In actuality, if we were being mathematically correct, we would move the first week of December back into autumn and add the first week of March to winter since that week is colder than the one we are in.
Some of you reading this dread this season, and it’s unlikely this missive is going to change your mind. However there are some really great things about the next three months, and perspective is everything.
The darkness gets a bad rap, but it slows us down, it forces us to be inside more, perhaps eating dinner earlier and maybe even getting more sleep. There’s a quietness across the landscape by 7 p.m. that doesn’t exist in July. The depth of darkness doesn’t last all that long either. Our early sunsets will actually start flipping the other way on Dec. 9 while we still continue to move those sunrises later and later. After the 21st, the gap between sunrise and sunset will grow. We actually have to wait until Jan. 4 when the sunrises start getting earlier by a couple of seconds.
For some, the darkness can bring on seasonal affective disorder, but you can help mitigate this by exposing yourself to daylight, especially during the middle of the day. There are also some really great lights you can have in your house. Adding some flowering plants like a cyclamen, paperwhite, or amaryllis can also brighten the dark.
A clear night with a full moon during this season can be rather bright, especially with snow cover. The “Cold moon” is full on Dec. 7, the “Wolf moon” on Jan. 6, and the “Snow moon” on Feb. 5. The winter full moon is higher in the sky than in the summer and can illuminate the landscape in beautiful fashion.
The first two-thirds of climatological winter is obviously darker than the final month, but by the time we hit the first week in February we enter what’s called solar spring. This begins the three months of greatest light gain of the entire year. So while there is still plenty of winter left at that time, wildlife, especially birds and even some plants, are beginning to respond to the added light heading into spring.
We don’t know how much snow we’re going to end up with over the next three months but on average Boston receives about 40 inches during December, January, and February. Snowfall tends to be highly variable, coming in waves, and is rarely evenly spread across those three months.
Even with our changing climate, cold weather is still a part of winter. The coldest day or week can occur during any of the next three months and even, in less common cases, early March. The average curve of temperature during climatological winter shows an uptick beginning in the final week of the month. There’s often lots of melting days thereafter.
Winter may not be your favorite season. You may not ski, snowboard, or ice skate, or enjoy a winter walk in the woods, but it’s here and rather than swim upstream for the next three months, try to embrace all it has to offer. It can be pretty magical.