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Winter weather is something that every child loves to see and every motorist loathes. Even if you hate to scrape it off of your windshield, you probably love some part of it – the calming drift of snowflakes, the fresh white blanket, or just ignoring it while you cuddle next to the fire. But you might not know all that much about the weather we face each year – so here are a few of my favorite facts about snow, winter, and the weather we love to hate.

What Causes Winter

Gradeschool astronomy taught us all that the earth’s orbit isn’t a circle, it’s a little stretched out and elliptical. We often hear that this is what causes the winter months, but you would be wrong. The winter solstice is actually the point where the planet is closest to the sun! What causes winter is the earth’s ‘axial tilt.’ As the earth rotates – causing the day/night cycle – it also ‘wobbles’ a little bit. This wobble means that over the course of the year, the northern half of the planet will spend a little bit more time in the sun, and the other half will spend more time in the shadow. This is what causes our seasons to shift, and it’s why in Australia, they will always be in the opposite season – spring vs fall and winter vs summer.

Nowhere is Safe

There are many places throughout the world that people expect to see snow year-round: Greenland, Alaska, and Norway just to name a few. But you wouldn’t expect to hear that snow falls all over the world, even in the Sahara desert and Hawaii – just not as often as other places. Chile’s Atacama Desert received nearly 32 inches of snow in 2011!

“Thundersnow” Exists

Thunderstorms are something we only really associate with the springtime months, when rainfall is plentiful. But a rare phenomenon of the winter is thundersnow, a lake-effect occurrence which is caused by warm columns of air from the ground, which forms stormcloud. Lightning is caused by the friction between warm and cold air, pushed along by the wind. So if the ground-air is warm enough, and the cloud-cover is cold enough, you shouldn’t be surprised when the snow is lit up by a bolt of lightning.

The Weather can Change Fast

The fastest cold-snap in history occurred in 1911. On January 10th, the day began at a balmy 55 degrees Fahrenheit. But when a cold front hit from the east, the temperature dropped over 40 degrees over the course of only 15 minutes, ending at a frigid 8 degrees Fahrenheit. So don’t think that your bright spring outing is safe from a snowfall!