This is turning out to be the winter that wasn't. Sure, we had cold temperatures and brutal windchills, but snow? When was the last time you remember your kids making it through February with so few snow days? Some schools haven't had a single day off due to snow. We're just a few weeks away from the first day of astronomical spring, and the warmth is breaking records as meteorological winter ends.

News Center Maine's Keith Carson posts this data showing where Portland, Bangor, and Caribou's meteorological winter ranked for that area's warmest winter.

Astronomical spring?  Meteorological winter? What's the difference? It's all in how the seasons are measured.

Astronomical seasons are the ones you see on your calendar. They are based on the position of the Earth in relation to the Sun and the shortest and longest days of the year. Astronomical seasons are on these approximate dates:

  • Vernal equinox - About March 21 - an equal amount of night and day - the first day of spring
  • Summer solstice - June 20 or 21 - the longest day of the year - the first day of summer
  • Autumnal equinox - About September 23 - an equal amount of night and day - the first day of autumn
  • Winter solstice - December 21 or 22 - the shortest day of the year - the first day of winter

Meteorological seasons, however,  are based on the annual temperature cycle. It makes the seasons nice and neat with each beginning at the start of a month. We think of winter as the cold season, but it only starts less than a week before Christmas. This measurement makes more sense:

  • Winter: December 1 to February 28 (or 29 for a leap year)
  • Spring: March 1 to May 31
  • Summer: June 1 to August 31
  • Autumn: September 1 to November 30

If you ask me, the temperature cycle is a bit more accurate for what we feel in each of the seasons than the longest and shortest days of the year. Although this winter hasn't felt very wintery at all. Thanks, El Niño.

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