When Is the ‘Shortest' Day of the Year? What to Know As the 2022 Winter Solstice Nears

While meteorological winter started along with December, the season doesn't officially begin until the winter solstice, which is just days away

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All signs are pointing to the start of winter as the weather gets chillier and the sun sets earlier -- and earlier.

In fact, the new season is coming right up on the calendar, dawning on what will be the "shortest" day of the year.

Here's what to know about the winter solstice in the Chicago area:

When Is the First Day of Winter?

The first day of winter coincides with the winter solstice, which is also the shortest day of the year in terms of hours of sunlight.

While meteorological seasons are generally recognized as periods of three months beginning at the start of every third month, astronomical seasons are lined up with biannual equinoxes and solstices.

According to the National Weather Service, this year's winter solstice will occur at 3:48 p.m. CST on Wednesday, Dec. 21, marking the official start of winter.

While the solstice and shortest day of the year will both occur on Dec. 21, the following day is recognized as the first full day of winter.

What Exactly Is the Winter Solstice?

The winter solstice marks the point when the North Pole is at its furthest location from the sun, creating the atmosphere for shorter hours of sunlight.

Though the day of the solstice is always marked, the solstice itself is only the moment that the northern hemisphere is tilted at its furthest point away from the sun, according to the Farmer's Almanac.

As the solstice marks the changing of seasons, the event also holds significance to many cultures. Several ancient structures were built as ways to track the seasons, including Stonehenge in England and Newgrange in Ireland.

Additionally, the solstice can also be seen as the time in which the sun's path reaches its most southerly point of the sky, with the opposite effect being witnessed in the southern hemisphere.

According to the Farmer's Almanac, the word solstice originates from the Latin words sol and sistere, translating to "sun" and "to stand still" respectively, loosely translating to "sun stand still."

What Happens After the Solstice?

After the winter solstice concludes, the sun begins to advance northward all the way up until the summer solstice occurs in the northern hemisphere, marking the when the sun is most closely tilted to the hemisphere.

Despite starting near the end of the months they begin in, astronomical seasons and meteorological seasons both last for approximately three months.

Below is a list of the astronomical season changes we can expect to see following the upcoming winter solstice next month:

  • Vernal Equinox (Spring): March 20, 2023, 4:24 p.m.
  • Summer Solstice (Summer): June 21, 2023, 9:58 a.m.
  • Autumnal Equinox (Fall): Sep. 23, 2023, 1:50 a.m.
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