In the United States and the rest of the northern hemisphere, the first day of the winter season is the day of the year when the Sun is farthest south (on December 21st or 22nd). This day is known as the Winter Solstice.  According to the calendars that I have seen, today, December 22nd is the First Day of Winter, the shortest day of the year.  The length of time elapsed between sunrise and sunset on this day is a minimum for the year. In the United States, there are only about 9½ hours of daylight on this day.  A common misconception is that the earth is further from the sun in winter than in summer.  Actually, the Earth is closest to the sun in December, which is winter in the Northern hemisphere.

Here is an explanation of winter weather terminology from the American Red Cross:

Winter Storm Outlook
Winter storm conditions are possible in the next 2 to 5 days.

Winter Weather Advisory
Winter weather conditions are expected to cause significant inconveniences and may be hazardous. When caution is used, these situations should not be life threatening.

Winter Storm Watch
Winter storm conditions are possible within the next 36 to 48 hours. People in a watch area should review their winter storm plans and stay informed about weather conditions.

Winter Storm Warning
Life­threatening, severe winter conditions have begun or will begin within 24 hours. People in a warning area should take precautions immediately.

Dress appropriately for the conditions outside; if the temperatures are extremely low, hypothermia can occur.    Those who are required to work in outdoor conditions should be trained about cold-induced illnesses and injuries.  Clothing should be layered to adjust to changing temperatures.  It is important to wear clothing that will keep water away from the skin.  Wearing the right gloves to keep hands warm, and additional protection, such as winterliners are a must for those who are exposed to the elements.

Some suggestions from OSHA includes that workers should be allowed to take frequent short breaks in warm dry shelters to let the body warm up.  Energy is needed in order to keep muscles warm, so avoid exhaustion or fatigue.  Drinks with caffeine should be avoided, but instead drink warm, sweet beverages, (sugar water or sports-type drinks).  If workers have predisposing health conditions such as heart disease, diabetes or hypertension,  they are at increased risk.  Also, older workers or those that are in poor physical condition also may be at risk.

What can happen to the body, and ways to help:

Frostbite – This results in deep layers of skin and tissue; pale, waxy-white skin color; skin becomes hard and numb; usually affecting the fingers, hands, toes, feet, ears, and nose.  If this occurs, the person should be moved to a warm, dry area and not left alone.  Do not rub the affected area, because that can cause damage to the skin and tissue.Seek medical attention as soon as possible.  To properly treat frostbite, warm the skin slowly, by placing the affected area in a warm (105 degree water bath), which usually takes 25-40 minutes.  Warming too fast can cause tissue damage.

Hypothermia – Normal body temperature drops to or below 95 degrees; fatigue or drowsiness; uncontrolled shivering; cool bluish skin, slurred speech; clumsy movements; irritable, irrational or confused behavior.  If they become drowsy or confused, wrap them in warm blankets and keep them awake.  Call for emergency help, as this is a very serious condition.  Treatment is about the same as for frostbite; however, do not rub the person’s body or place them in a warm water bath, as it could stop their heart.

Regardless of the reason to be outdoors this winter, whether working, shoveling snow, skiing, or bobsledding, be prepared by wearing the right apparel.  We hope this will be a safe winter for everyone.  Pay attention to weather advisories before driving.  Allow extra time to arrive safely at your destination.