Today is December 1st, but is it the first day of winter?

Good morning and welcome to the first day of winter. Or is it? Meteorologists define the start of winter as Dec. 1, running through the end of February. Then spring starts on March 1, and so on. But there are no hard-and-fast definitions of winter in the Northern Hemisphere. Some people use the winter solstice, which marks the point at which the Sun is the lowest in the sky. That’s reasonable. Still others have more esoteric definitions, as I discovered by reading this fun, unscientific poll recently published by FiveThirtyEight.

I thought we would do something similar here, so I’ve set up a poll for readers to gauge when you think winter begins. If you have some other method of determining the first day of winter, please write it in the comments below. I’ll write a summary post of the results next Monday. I’m genuinely curious what you all think.

One thing is for sure, it won’t feel like winter any time soon here. As we enter December, the overall pattern looks quite mild for the next 10 to 15 days. After this morning, many locations in Houston may not see overnight lows below 50 degrees during the first half of December, and high temperatures will generally be in the 70s. A quick look at the 8-14 day outlook for temperatures from NOAA supports the idea of warmer than normal weather ahead for “winter.” (If you consider early December winter, that is).

Temperature outlook for Dec. 8 to Dec. 14. (Pivotal Weather)

Wednesday

As expected, we’re seeing fairly widespread fog this morning, with low temperatures around 50 degrees matching dewpoints. Like we saw on Tuesday, this fog will burn off as the Sun rises and warms the air temperature later this morning. After the fog dissipates we should see mostly sunny skies, with highs generally in the mid- to upper-70s and light southerly winds. Overnight lows will drop into the 50s for Houston.

Thursday and Friday

These will be mild, partly sunny days, with highs in the upper 70s to near 80 degrees, and overnight lows around 60 degrees. Some fog will be possible on both mornings, but otherwise there are no weather concerns.

Saturday and Sunday

The forecast is starting to become a little more clear for the weekend, and generally I think we can expect a mix of sunshine and clouds, with only a slight chance of rain both days. (I’d guess nearly all of the region stays dry, and areas that do see rain will only receive a light mist). Highs will remain in the range of the upper 70s to 80 degrees, with nights around 60 degrees. If you have outdoor plans this weekend, you’re probably safe.

Mild weather ahead for Houston. (Weather Bell)

Next week

A weak cool front should arrive on Monday to bring some drier air into the region, and cooler weather. Highs on Monday may peak at about 70 degrees. After a quick warm up, another front appears to be on track for Wednesday. This one may bring a little bit of rain with it, and push nighttime temperatures down into the 50s for a few nights.

55 thoughts on “Today is December 1st, but is it the first day of winter?”

  1. Houston winters are mutable and ever-changing. They begin when it’s cold, and end when we get into the high 70s. We can often pack several mini-winters into one “winter” season.

    • “mutable” is a good word to describe the winters here. Aside from last year, I’ve normally been able to ignore them with minimal effort.

      Growing up in the Midwest, I recall learning that the Winter Solstice was the true start of winter. Before that it could be cold (I definitely recall trick-or-treating with snow on the ground) but not REALLY cold consistently until after mid December.

      Here in Houston I guess a winter solstice start gets closer to what I’d consider the start of Houston weather (January) where you need a coat/sweater all day long, not just in the morning

    • Agreed. It’s not winter until there are no more days like today on the horizon for a long while and that is usually around January/February.

  2. For those that are interested, the FiveThirtyEight Politics podcast had a whole (funny) discussion yesterday about the results of the when does winter start poll. No affiliation; just a listener.
    About Those 2024 Polls … https://player.fm/1BLDWSw

  3. With family located all over the United States, it’s simpler to refer to winter as a season that begins December 1. Temperature isn’t really the trigger for me.

  4. We usually use December 21, the solstice as the start of winter – easy to remember that way

  5. About the poll- typically Houston’s fall and winter blend together. I don’t really consider it winter until most trees that lose foliage are close to bare, usually sometime during December. And a few years back that happened in January! I say look to the Mother Nature for the answer to the question.

  6. It depends on where you live. Up north winter can begin as early as mid-October. Back in 1981 I left the Great Lakes Naval Training Center on the Friday before Columbus Day 6 hours ahead of the first snow. Down here there’s been a couple of years where winter seemed to only last a couple of days 🙂

  7. I was born and raised in Bay City, Matagorda County. Son of a farmer, weather was a everyday concern … I’ve carried that for 74 years! I became an engineer in the oil business – worked all over the world – from Singapore, Australia, Japan to the North Sea to Alaska to the Lost Quarter in Saudi and points in between. We’ve lived in Connecticut and Pennsylvania. I know weather from experience. I’ve included weather extremes as design criteria for oil and gas production facilities. Micro bursts do make a difference when designing LNG Harbors!!!!

    As a 10 year old boy in Bay City on Christmas …70 degrees and drippy fog on Christmas morning didn’t mean winter has arrived but at least I could take my new BB gun and go big game hunting on the coastal prairie. Years later having sleet and ice freeze on me near Matagorda Bay while duck hunting really meant it had arrived as did breaking ice on water troughs on November 15 in the hill country. Ice fog in a NW Territory gas plant In a November excursion seriously spelled winter. All this to say that December 21 only indicates the position and tilt of the earth relative to the sun. Winter comes when weather patterns make a given location sustainably cold!!!

    I’ll close with a quote to me from a departed friend who was a NSF recognized geoscientist and engineer …
    “Hell, the earth has been warming for millions of years”

    Thanks for the opportunity to comment! You folks do a good job!

  8. I use a mixed Anglican-Astros calendar: e.g., Spring begins either on Ash Wednesday or when pitchers and catchers report, whichever is later; and Autumn, which begins with the last out of the last inning of the last game of the Series, ends, and Winter begins, on the First Sunday of Advent.

  9. I thought winter started on December 21st, spring on March 21st summer on June 21st & fall on September 21st?

  10. Winter starts when it feels cold enough to need a coat in the morning. That “feels” part is important. In the NC mountains where it’s relatively dry, 40 can feel quite pleasant. On the humid coast 40 can be very cold indeed.

  11. Growing up in Wyoming, we always said there were only two seasons — winter and the 4th of July. But I’ve seen it snow on the 4th!

    In Houston, winter is a phenomenon that happens every few years when there are two or more days in a row when the temperature drops below freezing, like February, 2021. I love “winter” here!

  12. Growing up in Wisconsin our Winters started Nov 1 and usually ended in April 1+. That why we stayed in Texas. Of course Houston was and is a great place to live and be in business.

  13. When you live in Houston winter is hard to identify, but Dec. 1 works for me as at least a day to start looking forward to colder weather for a while-nice to break out the sweatshirts for a change.

  14. I’ll never understand how Midwinter (i.e., the winter solstice) is also the first day of winter. Or for that matter, how Midsummer (the summer solstice) is also the first day of summer. By this reasoning, the day shouldn’t start until noon.

  15. We use a mixture: Fall is when school starts, late August or early September.
    Winter is the winter solstice, Spring is in April with variable dates depending on the weather and
    Summer is June 21st, a family birthday.

  16. Winter begins in November, the day after Thanksgiving! This is when I start wearing only Christmas shirts, sweaters and earrings. I settle in for all Hallmark movies with my Hallmark shirt a glass of wine and a fire in the fireplace. My air conditioner tells me it’s cold outside! For us Texan’s, it’s a state-of-mind🌬❄️☃️

  17. On one chilly day in the 40s or 50s, my boy asked “is today winter?” Coming from NE, Houston only has 3 seasons: summer (May-Oct), fall-ish (Nov-Feb), and spring (Mar-Apr). Fall to me is at most when nights are <60s. the days that still get to upper 70s or worse just kill the fall vibe, tho’. In short, winter are those few days with a frost warning.

  18. For me, winter has been either at first freeze (my vote) or several days of overnight lows at or below 40. And, I usually think “well, winter missed us” about Feb 10 if nothing has happened (last year was a very nasty surprise…ha…but without the awful power outages, that would have passed as a “big cold snap”). I moved back to Houston from Pittsburgh four years ago…they had light snow a couple days over the weekend. I’m happier here.

  19. Since learning of the winter and summer solstice, and the fall and spring equinox, that’s what I’ve considered official season start dates. I’ve not attached it to the outdoor temperature as I’ve lived in central or southeast Texas most of my life where it “feels” like summer most of the year.

  20. I agree with Dec 1 as the first day of winter and spring begins March 1. My other option would be when the time changes since it gets dark so early in the evening

  21. I recall a Houston Chronicle article giving the four seasons in Houston as:

    Almost summer
    Summer
    Still summer
    Christmas

  22. Winter begins at different times of the year in different parts of the country. There is no one set date for the whole country. I remember so many 70 degree Christmases in Houston. That is not winter here. And it is snowing in Idaho now. That is winter for them. I think winter begins Jan 1 for the Houston area when it gets cold drizzly.

  23. Our “Winter” weather is very similar to last year. It was a warm December. I bought fresh greenery for the house and it was all dried out when I got it home. Gonna skip that this year and buy some spray! LOL

  24. Winter, Spring, Summer, Fall – they are seasons and while certain weather phenomenon may be likely to occur during certain seasons, the weather is not the season. I go by the Solstices and Equoinoxs as my guide. And goodness knows that in Houston we have little of the cold weather that so identifies the season in other areas fortunately. Spring and Autumn are best and we endure our burning Summers thanks to the mirav=cle of AC.

  25. All of these wonderful comments! Some made me lol. I agree with those from the Midwest: winter comes earlier in Chicago, and lasts longer. I am wondering WHY meteorologists have chosen December 1 as the first day of winter in the northern hemisphere? Why not use the equinoxes and solstices as universal markers?

  26. 6th generation (coastal) Texan here. For me, winter is when the pecan trees have gone bare, and is over when citrus and dewberries blossom. That puts it close to solstice and equinox, so that’s fairly conventional I reckon.

    Thanks for the absolute best weather info site in the universe or anywhere else, Eric & Matt!!

  27. I give up and declare winter about a week after the last possible planting date on the fall planting guide for Jefferson county. I live on the North side of Beaumont, but this year I decided I don’t like the last planting dates for Beaumont, so I am using the recommendations for Port Arthur. Gardeners are gamblers. This year I feel frisky.
    I declare spring when the snow white narcissus bloom. That usually happens in December. This year I might just skip winter entirely. The weather may or may not cooperate. I am not in charge of the weather. I am in charge of my attitude. And my attitude says if spring starts before winter starts, that’s just what sometimes happens in Southeast Texas. I can live with that.

  28. Stolen from an internet meme of unknown provenance.

    Texas has 13 seasons:
    Winter
    Fool’s Spring
    Icepocalypse/Snowmageddon
    Spring of Deception
    Third Winter
    The Pollening
    Actual Spring
    Noah’s Ark
    Summer
    Hell’s Front Porch
    False Fall
    Second Summer
    Actual Fall

  29. Some years ago, I worked in a Linen Service. One of the few there who spoke English as a first language, most were Salvadoran and Guatemalan women. Literally steam-powered machinery. Mid February, mid day, the women are all clustered by the door, chattering, and scared half-to-death by this previously-unknown phenomenon. ‘Que es?’ ‘Es nieve’. Smack my head. Of course they’ve never seen snow. Thought it was the end of the world or something. I taught them to make snowballs and throw them. Fun was had. Having grown up in the Texas Gulf Coast and in Mexico, I was surprised that I could remember the Spanish word for ‘snow’. Viva SantaClaus! Viva Nochebuena!

  30. I was always taught that the December solstice is midwinter day, like the June solstice is Midsummer’s Day, So to me, the start of winter is halfway between the Autumnal Equinox and the Winter Solstice. Once the days start getting longer, we’re over the halfway point and starting to get closer to the beginning of spring than we are to the beginning of winter. It makes sense to me because it hardly ever snows, or even gets that cold, in Houston, but the shortening and lengthening of the days are very observable

  31. I was born and raised in western NY, or as I like to call it. Baja Ontario. For me, it’s winter in Houston when it is too cold out for me to wear shorts when I walk the dog in the morning. We had one day of winter in February of this year, but none for the previous several years.

  32. From a Native Houstonian: I think the first day of winter occurs when the temperature does not go above 45 degrees for the entire day. Sometimes there is no winter in Houston.

  33. First frost or first night that’s 39F or colder. BTW: Everything has shifted later if you go by leaves falling. My pecan tree and deciduous oaks are still full of leaves as of today, December 1st. I don’t remember such a year of winter leaves in the recent past.

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