When days grow short

  • Posted: Saturday, December 21, 2013 12:10 a.m.

If you follow the solar calendar, as so many people do, today, Dec. 21, is the official start of winter.

Tell that to the millions of Americans from Texas to New England who were whomped earlier this month by what the TV meteorologists refer to by the deceptively innocuous term “wintry mix.”

Wintry mix encompasses snow, sleet and freezing rain and basically it means your flight is going to be canceled, your power is going to go out, you’re probably going to slip on your own sidewalk, you’ll stand in long lines for milk and Kitty Litter, and if you’re really unlucky, you’ll spend the night in your car in a ditch along the interstate.

But the National Weather Service, which is heads up in these matters, dates the start of winter from Dec. 1. And instead of prolonging winter until its official solar conclusion, the vernal equinox, this year on March 20, the NWS pulls the plug on winter on March 1.

Put another way, by the NWS’ way of reckoning. winter is 23 percent over when the winter solstice rolls around, afflicting the Northern Hemisphere with the day of the year with the fewest hours of daylight. (The word solstice comes from the Latin words for “sun” and “to stand still.”)

If you’re a weather obsessive — and there are enough of you to support your own cable channel — or simply hate winter, every morning you’ll turn to the weather column in your local paper and note that, imperceptibly at first and then with greater speed, the hours of daylight are growing longer.

Uncle Sam gives the process a huge boost and you an hour less sleep by moving the clock forward an hour on the second Sunday in March — March 9th this year — giving you an extra hour of daylight.

Take heart.

There is light and warmth at the end of this tunnel.

— Scripps Howard News Service

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