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February 6, 2011 / Dave Gorham

When Summer is Winter / When Up is Down

Here at ImpactWeather we used to have a forecast service that was called a “Weather Window.” A client, typically a photographer or cinematographer, would establish particular weather conditions needed (snow, rain, sun, etc) and when we found those conditions, we would notify the client with the necessary amount of lead time. I remember a particular Weather Window that required four consecutive days of heavy snow. The problem was that it was July.

I didn’t have to look far on the map or the calendar to find the needed snow. I looked south of the Equator to the Andes Mountains: In about 5 days’ time, a major low pressure area would push east from the South Pacific and move across Chile and Argentina. Ideal winter conditions for the needed Weather Window. Most of us in the Northern Hemisphere tend to forget that winter “up here” is summer “down there” and vice versa. Naturally then, if a client is looking for a snow storm in July it’s south of the Equator that will satisfy the need.

There was no date on this Wiki photo of a snow storm in the Andes Mountains, but it's safe to assume it was likely in June, July or August. Photo: Wikipedia.

Most of us may also forget (junior high school was a long time ago!) that the Earth’s rotational axis is tilted about 23 degrees from its perpendicular stance in regards to its orbit around the sun. This means that for half the year (half the rotation around the Sun) the Northern Hemisphere is pointed toward the sun and for the other half of the year the Southern Hemisphere is pointed to the Sun. This tilt fuels the change of seasons: The hemisphere tilted toward the sun receives more hours of daylight and more direct rays of incoming solar radiation (summer), while the hemisphere tilted away from the sun receives less daylight and less solar energy (winter).

Earth's axial tilt allows the change of seasons as the Earth orbits the Sun. If we could fix the tilt we'd all have perfect weather! (Just kidding. All the plants would die, glaciers would increase, global circulations and weather patterns would be forever altered, life as we know it would change, yadda, yadda, yadda.) Image: Wikipedia.

The other day I was reading an article about countries in the Southern Hemisphere wanting to bid for a Winter Olympic Games. The problem, of course, is the traditional time for the Winter Olympics is February — smack in the middle of summer south of the Equator.

What’s the solution? The International Olympic Committee (IOC) has allowed these countries to bid for the Games, but proposals must be submitted quite early so a non-traditional winter schedule can be considered and prepared for by all concerned — including those bidding for television contracts (would you enjoy watching the Winter Games in August?). Whether we will actually see the Winter Games in August remains anybody’s guess.

In a related story, the bid from the city of Doha, Qatar for the 2016 Summer Games was rejected because Doha wanted to push the Games to the somewhat cooler month of October.

In yet another related story, I was talking to a group of 8th grade science students during our ImpactWeather Community Outreach program. My topic was “An Introduction to Meteorology,” which began with a discussion about temperature, the change of seasons and the tilt of the Earth. Of course, I mentioned that “when it’s summer up here it’s winter down there; and summer down there means it’s winter up here.” As an aside, I also mentioned that Christmas in the Northern Hemisphere occurs on the third day of winter, while Christmas in the Southern Hemisphere happens on the third day of summer – there’s no snow for Santa’s sleigh south of the Equator. Looks of shock and bewilderment began to register on the kids’ faces. (In Australia, Santa arrives via six white boomers.)

Christmas in Australia. Does Santa arrive by surfboard? Tempting, but no.

What’s your weather window? Do you like to snow ski in July? Surf in February? Spend Christmas in a winter wonderland of snow? Spend January tanning on the beach? As long as you’re not opposed to a little bit of trans-equatorial travel, you can do almost anything you want — whenever you want.

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