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For season’s greetings, a primer on the seasons

Winter officially began at 9:30 p.m. Wednesday in the Inland Northwest. Despite a weak to moderate La Niña, the colder-than- normal sea-surface temperature event in the south-central Pacific Ocean, we haven’t seen much snow since the middle of November.

As of early Tuesday, this December is one of the driest ever recorded across much of the Northwest. At Spokane International Airport, a puny 0.04 inches of rain and melted snow has been recorded, compared to a normal of about 1.5 inches. Our normal snowfall is approximately 16 inches, but we’ve received less than half that.

As we move further into winter, the number of sunlight hours will be increasing. Of course, it will be a while before we notice the change. Although it has been cold, Earth is actually closest to the sun at this time of year. Because of the elliptical orbit, our planet comes closest to the sun around Jan. 3. It’s farthest from the sun around July 4.

However, the 23.5 degree tilt of Earth is what gives us our seasons. At this time of year, the Northern Hemisphere is tilted away from the direct rays of the sun. The Southern Hemisphere, by contrast, is now in the summer season, tilted toward the sun. During our summer season in the Inland Northwest, we are tipped toward the sun, even though Earth is farther away from that shining star.

Despite it being summer in the Southern Hemisphere, a team of skiers trying to ski to the South Pole was forced to give up last week when they encountered minus 58 degree temperatures, fierce winds and blinding snows. The leader of the team said last Thursday, “it was like trying to ski inside a milk carton.”

One 34-year-old woman is still attempting to ski across Antarctica by herself. She hopes to reach the South Pole by mid-January, despite bitterly cold temperatures which exceeded minus 30 on Monday. She also reported Monday that the sun never sets in Antarctica at this time of the year, so at least she has plenty of light 24 hours a day.

It’s still possible that we’ll see some snow between now and Christmas. Remember, winter officially began on Wednesday. In December 1985, there was little snow across the Inland Northwest, but conditions changed dramatically in January and February 1986 with above-normal amounts of snow. Stay tuned.

Contact meteorologist Randy Mann at randy@