Has Winter begun?

The same cool, breezy pattern will continue through the first part of the weekend, but warmer weather will arrive early next week.

We've already seen snowflakes in the air across much of the Great Lakes Bay region and Genesee Valley, so does that mean Winter has begun?

Of course, Calendar Winter doesn't begin until December 21st and Meteorological Winter on December 1st.

But I've often heard people say that Michigan has six -- or even seven -- months of Winter.

I grew up in the Upper Peninsula, and people there complained we had eight or even nine months of winter.

Are the above statements really true, or are they an exaggeration?

I suppose it depends on where you grew up and what you consider Winter to be.

When I think of the four distinct seasons, I have four clear pictures in mind.

New plant life for Spring, warm to hot days at the beach for Summer, colorful leaves for Fall, and snow with bare trees in Winter.

I suppose someone from the South would say that winter is when you walk outside without a jacket and it feels "cold".

Maybe I'm biased because I grew up in a cold climate, but that definition doesn't hold (frozen) water (in the form of snow) to me.

You can't get a true Fall season without having weather cold enough to encourage the foliage to change color, but not so cold that you have snow on the ground.

Similarly, you can't have a Spring thaw if it's never cold enough to keep a semi-permanent snow cover to begin with.

That pretty much means you have to walk outside with a jacket on in those temperatures, and so that might make October -- and possibly even September and May -- "Winter" months in Michigan to someone who grew up in a subtropical climate.

And it pretty much means -- to me, anyway -- that many Southerners and people who grew up in tropical or subtropical climates don't know what Winter really is.

So let's forget about all the snow we have to shovel and drive in and the images we have of vacationing in Hawaii or Jamaica and talk about Michigan Winters objectively.

I think we can come up with a reasonable definition of Winter by looking at the amount of time that passes between our first and last measureable snowfalls of the season.

In Flint, the 30-year average for our first measureable snowfall (0.1" or more) is November 12th.

Our last measureable snowfall is April 9th.

That gives us approximately five months of winter.

(I did a similar calculation for one of the colder, snowier locations in the Upper Peninsula -- the NWS Office near Negaunee -- and came up with 6 1/2 months of Winter there.)

Even as I write this, a co-worker (Erik Columbia, a native of southeast Michigan) told me he thinks Winter occurs when there are no leaves on the trees.

That would make the "six months of Winter" claim pretty accurate.

So I suppose Winter can be a relative term, but why tell potential tourists that our Winters are any longer than they really are?

With that, I'll end my rant and leave you with my extended forecast that does look chilly through the weekend (just click on image-2)... And I'll let you decide whether it looks more like Fall or Winter.

Stay warm out there!