Sunday we welcome winter like a lamb

Posted at 6:43 PM, Dec 20, 2014
and last updated 2014-12-20 18:43:19-05

WEST MICHIGAN — While November may have felt exactly like winter with cold temperatures and 31 inches of snow, we were technically still in fall the entire time. That said, winter officially arrives on Sunday at 6:03 P.M. here in the Eastern Standard Time zone. But what does it mean?

The winter solstice as it’s called is the start of winter. It’s one of the shortest days of the year…only about nine hours long. It’s one of the longest nights of the year…about 15 hours long! It’s also the time when the sun is lowest in the sky (off the horizon) and farthest south of the equator. It’s at about 23.5 degrees south of the equator to be exact, and it also marks the start of summer for the southern hemisphere. It’s the start of the long winter season for the entire northern hemisphere (that’s us).

After Sunday the days slowly grow longer and the sun will gradually appear higher and higher in the sky each day until the summer solstice in June (the longest day of the year). Winter usually doesn’t get too harsh until January and February due to a seasonal temperature lag. It takes time for the northern hemisphere to cool off (after summer) and experience its harshest weather and coldest temperatures. Generally speaking, this typically occurs in January or later.

Here’s something you may not realize. We’re actually closer to the sun in the January than we are in June, but because of the 23.5 degree tilt of the earth on its axis, the sun rays are not as direct and it’s colder. In June/July/August, the sun is much higher in the sky, the rays are more direct, and the penetration of solar energy (known as insolation) is greater.

So to recap…the bad news is this is the shortest day of the year as far as actual daylight hours. The good news? The days get longer from here on out!

We’re monitoring and tracking the development of a big storm system arriving just before Christmas. While the scope of this system will be huge affecting several states with rain and wind, the actual chance of it producing heavy snow for West Michigan appears small at this time. I see rain developing Monday night, continuing Tuesday, and going in to Christmas Eve on Wednesday with temperatures in the 40s. An inch or two of rain will be possible before it changes over to snow showers later Wednesday (Christmas Eve) and continues through Christmas Day. Again, it doesn’t appear to be a big snow producer for us, but it will have plenty of wind with the possibility of huge waves and storm warnings on Lake Michigan.

The track of this system is not in stone and can change with each forecast model run. Make sure to stay up on later forecasts at Happy Holidays!