When does winter start as Met Office explains why date changes every year

There’s frost on the ground and a chill in the air as it starts to feel a lot more like winter.

Winter across the UK might feel like it has started as early as October, but it actually begins a lot later than the current chilly conditions might suggest.

It comes as Scotland saw temperatures plunge in recent days, and the country could face a four-day 1,000 mile-wide ‘polar plunge’ this week with the first spot of snowfall on higher ground.

The Met Office said snow is set to hit as chilly northerly air arrives in a ‘rare’ October phenomenon.

Winter starts and ends on different days depending on how you define it and the Met Office has explained why exactly that is.

Here’s when winter officially starts, how long is will last and when it ends…

When does winter start in 2021?

A pedestrian walks on the snow covered Calton Hill in the centre of Edinburgh

The dates differ, depending on whether you follow the meteorological or astronomical calendar.

Winter begins on December 1 and lasts under the end of February – spring is March 1. The other date means winter finishes on March 20.

We’ll start with the meteorological calendar, as this is the one the majority of people are aware of.

The Met Office use a meteorological definition of the seasons. By this calendar, the first day of winter is always 1 December; ending on 28 (or 29 during a Leap Year) February.

The Met Office states: “Meteorological seasons consist of splitting the seasons into four periods made up of three months each. These seasons are split to coincide with our Gregorian calendar, making it easier for meteorological observing and forecasting to compare seasonal and monthly statistics.

“The seasons are defined as spring (March, April, May), summer (June, July, August), autumn (September, October, November) and winter (December, January, February).”

According to the Met Office, the astronomical calendar “determines the seasons due to the 23.5 degree tilt of the Earth’s rotational axis in relation to its orbit around the sun.”

The winter equinox – the 24-hour period with the fewest daylight hours of the year – traditionally marks the start of winter.

Because the orbit of the Earth around the Sun is elliptical, the dates for solstices aren’t fixed, though the winter solstice usually falls between December 20 and December 23.

Both Equinoxes and Solstices are related to the Earth’s orbit around the Sun. However, the dates of the Equinox and Solstice aren’t fixed due to the Earth’s elliptical orbit of the Sun.

Winter starts dates

Winter 2021 Tuesday, 21 December 2021

Sunday, 20 March 2022

Winter 2022 Wednesday, 21 December 2022

Monday, 20 March 2023

Winter 2023 Friday, 22 December 2023

Wednesday, 20 March 2024

Winter 2024 Saturday, 21 December 2024

Thursday, 20 March 2025

What is the winter solstice?

When does winter start as Met Office explains why date changes every year
The winter solstice is on Tuesday, December 21

This year, the solstice is on Tuesday, December 21, roughly three weeks after what most people consider ‘traditional’.

The winter solstice is the shortest day of the year and also the longest night.

This is because the Earth has turned on its axis so that the north pole tilts away from the sun and is at its furthest point from it for the entire year.

As a result of the Northern Hemisphere spending less time close to and facing the sun, the winter months are much colder and shorter. There are therefore fewer daylight hours and longer nights.

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How long does winter last?

Winter lasts around three months, according to both definitions.

The last day of the meteorological winter will be on February 28th, 2022, with spring beginning the next day on March 1st.

With the astronomical winter starting later, it also ends later. The last day of winter according to this definition is March 20, 2022.

This is also known as the spring equinox.

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