Why is it cold in Winter?

The approach of the Winter solstice provides a good opportunity to answer this question about the weather.


The British climate is ‘temperate’ which means that, whilst some times of the year that are warmer or cooler than others, it never gets really, really hot or really, really cold. Each year is divided into four seasons and each season has a typical kind of weather.

Spring starts cold and gets warmer but it is often rainy. It is the time when plants start to grow and make leaves and flowers. Summer is warm and sunny. Autumn gets cooler and the leaves on some trees turn brown and fall off. Winter is the coldest season – sometimes even cold enough for snow!

But why do we have seasons with warmer or cooler temperatures? The answer is to do with how the Earth moves around the Sun. There are three things that you need to know:

(1) The Earth travels around the Sun on a path called an ‘orbit’, which is sort of oval-shaped. It takes one year for the Earth to travel all the way around its orbit.

(2) The Earth spins as it orbits the Sun and it takes one day for the Earth to do one complete spin. (This is why we have day and night – daytime is when the part of the Earth that we live on faces towards the Sun and nighttime is when it faces away from the Sun.)

(3) The Earth is tilted slightly to one side. So as the Earth moves around its orbit, different parts of the Earth’s surface are pointed towards or away from the Sun.

In the wintertime, the Northern part of the Earth (where Britain is) is pointed away from the Sun. The daytimes are shorter because we spend less time facing the Sun and we get less sunlight. It feels colder because there is less time each day for the Sun to warm us up. In the summertime, when the Northern part of the Earth is pointed towards the Sun, we have longer daytimes and it feels warmer because each day gets more sunlight.

The Southern part of the Earth also has Winter and Summer but at the opposite times of year to the Northern part. If you watch this video you’ll be able to work out why!

So, the reason it is cold in Winter is because that is the time of year when the part of the Earth on which we live spends less time facing the Sun and, because it gets less direct sunlight, the days are shorter and it doesn’t feel as warm.

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