The Outlook: Fast ride on the weather roller coaster

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Mark your calendars for Dec. 21 — 11:19 p.m., to be precise.

It's the time to celebrate the arrival of the winter solstice, the shortest day of the year in the Northern Hemisphere as the sun's apparent path is farthest south from the equator. It's also the start of a very gradual increase in afternoon daylight, which will take several weeks for us to notice.

Although it's the start of winter for astronomers and worshippers of the season, we've been deep into winter weather here in the Berkshires for the past five weeks, although with one- or two-day warmups like Saturday's, it's felt like riding a roller coaster. With the month half over, 18 inches of snow so far at Pittsfield Municipal Airport, just above the average for all of December.

Without taking aim at astronomers, weather scientists have a different definition of winter: December through March, and they call it meteorological winter. Here in New England, we might as well tack on the last half of November and the first half of April, for five months minimum of wintry weather.

Every year, people ask why the earliest sunset comes a few days before the solstice — in the Berkshires, it was 4:20 from Dec. 2 until Sunday, and now it's 4:21, and a minute later day by day. The latest sunrise — 7:22 - stretches from Dec. 29 to Jan. 9.

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The reasons involve the tilt of the Earth's axis and our planet's elliptical (oblong) orbit around the sun. For the rest of the story, visit earthsky.org/astronomy-essentials.

Our weather this week follows the pattern of early-week snowfalls followed by deep freezes. After a blustery Sunday with a few snow showers, a tranquil and seasonable Monday will be followed by a steady snowfall by dawn Tuesday and through much of the day, with some sleet or freezing rain in South Berkshire.

AccuWeather.com predicts 2 to 4 inches total, enough for some slick roads and sidewalks and tricky morning and afternoon commutes on Tuesday.

Then for the rest of the week through Saturday, mostly dry but frigid temps, around 5 degrees Wednesday and Thursday nights, with daytime highs remaining in the teens on Thursday before some moderation Friday and Saturday ahead of a potential coastal storm Saturday night into Sunday. Too early now to predict the impact, but travelers who can depart this Friday should do so.

Clarence Fanto can be reached at cfanto@yahoo.com, on Twitter @BE_cfanto or at 413-637-2551.


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