How does that old Merle Haggard song go? “If we make it through December everything’s gonna to be all right, I know. It’s the coldest time of winter and I shiver when I see the falling snow.” “If We Make it Through January” may have been a more accurate title for North Dakotans, but a December song it is.
December contains some of the shortest days of the year here in the northern hemisphere. Conversely, those living in the southern hemisphere enjoy some of the longest days of the year. The days become shorter this year until the winter solstice on December 21. That is when the midday sun will be further south than any other time of year, and directly overhead for someone standing on the Tropic of Capricorn in the southern hemisphere. After that, slowly but surely, the sun will begin to rise higher in the sky, and the days will begin to lengthen.
The winter solstice is widely regarded as the first day of winter, or what some people may more accurately call our astronomical winter. That seems strange for those of us that live at higher latitudes. By the middle of December it seems that we are always well into the winter season. We often view September, October, and November as the autumn season up here. So perhaps December 1 would make a better first day of winter for us. Actually, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration it is.
I recently read the definition of winter on the website of the NOAA. They define winter as “typically the coldest season of the year during which the sun is farthest from overhead. In the Northern Hemisphere, winter customarily includes the months of December, January, and February.” So the NOAA recognizes a “meteorological winter” and their records are collected and recorded accordingly.
December is climatically an important month. We are about a fourth of the way through the month. The solstice is coming soon, and the days will begin to lengthen. There is plenty of winter left though, and Old Man Winter probably has a lot more cold and snow to dish out. But we will make it through December. And hopefully, as Haggard phrased it: “we’ll be fine.”
Natural North Dakota is supported by NDSU Central Grasslands Research Extension Center and Minot State University-Bottineau, and by the members of Prairie Public. Thanks to Sunny 101.9 in Bottineau for their recording services.
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