A season is a division of the year marked by changes in weather, ecology, and the amount of daylight. On Earth, seasons are the result of Earth's orbit around the Sun and Earth's axial tilt relative to the ecliptic plane. In temperate and polar regions, the seasons are marked by changes in the intensity of sunlight that reaches the Earth's surface, variations of which may cause animals to undergo hibernation or to migrate, and plants to be dormant. Various cultures define the number and nature of seasons based on regional variations.
The Northern Hemisphere experiences more direct sunlight during May, June, and July, as the hemisphere faces the Sun. The same is true of the Southern Hemisphere in November, December, and January. It is Earth's axial tilt that causes the Sun to be higher in the sky during the summer months, which increases the solar flux. However, due to seasonal lag, June, July, and August are the warmest months in the Northern Hemisphere while December, January, and February are the warmest months in the Southern Hemisphere.
In temperate and sub-polar regions, four seasons based on the Gregorian calendar are generally recognized: spring, summer, autumn or fall, and winter. Ecologists often use a six-season model for temperate climate regions which are not tied to any fixed calendar dates: prevernal, vernal, estival, serotinal, autumnal, and hibernal. Many tropical regions have two seasons: the rainy, wet, or monsoon season and the dry season. Some have a third cool, mild, or harmattan season. "Seasons" can also be dictated by the timing of important ecological events such as hurricane season, tornado season, and wildfire season. The most historically important of these are the three seasons—flood, growth, and low water—which were previously defined by the former annual flooding of the Nile in Egypt., India
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Seasons often hold special significance for agrarian societies, whose lives revolve around planting and harvest times, and the change of seasons is often attended by ritual. The definition of seasons is also cultural. In India, from ancient times to the present day, six seasons or Ritu based on south Asian religious or cultural calendars are recognised and identified for purposes such as agriculture and trade.

Causes and effects

Axial tilt

The seasons result from the Earth's axis of rotation being tilted with respect to its orbital plane by an angle of approximately 23.4 degrees.
Regardless of the time of year, the northern and southern hemispheres always experience opposite seasons. This is because during summer or winter, one part of the planet is more directly exposed to the rays of the Sun than the other, and this exposure alternates as the Earth revolves in its orbit. For approximately half of the year, the Northern Hemisphere tips toward the Sun, with the maximum amount occurring on about June 21. For the other half of the year, the same happens, but in the Southern Hemisphere instead of the Northern, with the maximum around December 21. The two instants when the Sun is directly overhead at the Equator are the equinoxes. Also at that moment, both the North Pole and the South Pole of the Earth are just on the terminator, and hence day and night are equally divided between the two hemispheres. Around the March equinox, the Northern Hemisphere will be experiencing spring as the hours of daylight increase, and the Southern Hemisphere is experiencing autumn as daylight hours shorten.
The effect of axial tilt is observable as the change in day length and altitude of the Sun at solar noon during the year. The low angle of Sun during the winter months means that incoming rays of solar radiation are spread over a larger area of the Earth's surface, so the light received is more indirect and of lower intensity. Between this effect and the shorter daylight hours, the axial tilt of the Earth accounts for most of the seasonal variation in climate in both hemispheres.

Elliptical Earth orbit

Compared to axial tilt, other factors contribute little to seasonal temperature changes. The seasons are not the result of the variation in Earth's distance to the Sun because of its elliptical orbit. In fact, Earth reaches perihelion in January, and it reaches aphelion in July, so the slight contribution of orbital eccentricity opposes the temperature trends of the seasons in the Northern Hemisphere. In general, the effect of orbital eccentricity on Earth's seasons is a 7% variation in sunlight received.
Orbital eccentricity can influence temperatures, but on Earth, this effect is small and is more than counteracted by other factors; research shows that the Earth as a whole is actually slightly warmer when farther from the sun. This is because the Northern Hemisphere has more land than the Southern, and land warms more readily than sea.
Any noticeable intensification of southern winters and summers due to Earth's elliptical orbit is mitigated by the abundance of water in the Southern Hemisphere.

Maritime and hemispheric

Seasonal weather fluctuations also depend on factors such as proximity to oceans or other large bodies of water, currents in those oceans, El Niño/ENSO and other oceanic cycles, and prevailing winds.
In the temperate and polar regions, seasons are marked by changes in the amount of sunlight, which in turn often causes cycles of dormancy in plants and hibernation in animals. These effects vary with latitude and with proximity to bodies of water. For example, the South Pole is in the middle of the continent of Antarctica and therefore a considerable distance from the moderating influence of the southern oceans. The North Pole is in the Arctic Ocean, and thus its temperature extremes are buffered by the water. The result is that the South Pole is consistently colder during the southern winter than the North Pole during the northern winter.
The seasonal cycle in the polar and temperate zones of one hemisphere is opposite to that of the other. When it is summer in the Northern Hemisphere, it is winter in the Southern, and vice versa.


The tropical and subtropical regions see little annual fluctuation of sunlight. However, seasonal shifts occur along a rainy, low-pressure belt called the Intertropical Convergence Zone. As a result, the amount of precipitation tends to vary more dramatically than the average temperature. When the Zone is north of the Equator, the northern tropics experience their wet season while the southern tropics have their dry season. This pattern reverses when the Zone migrates to a position south of the Equator.

Mid-latitude thermal lag

In meteorological terms, the solstices do not fall in the middles of summer and winter. The heights of these seasons occur up to 7 weeks later because of seasonal lag. Seasons, though, are not always defined in meteorological terms.
In astronomical reckoning by hours of daylight alone, the solstices and equinoxes are in the middle of the respective seasons. Because of seasonal lag due to thermal absorption and release by the oceans, regions with a continental climate, which predominate in the Northern Hemisphere, often consider these four dates to be the start of the seasons as in the diagram, with the cross-quarter days considered seasonal midpoints. The length of these seasons is not uniform because of Earth's elliptical orbit and its different speeds along that orbit.

Four-season calendar reckoning

Most calendar-based methods use a four-season model to identify the warmest and coldest seasons, which are separated by two intermediate seasons. Calendar-based reckoning defines the seasons in relative rather than absolute terms. Accordingly, if floral activity is regularly observed during the coolest quarter of the year in a particular area, it is still considered winter despite the traditional association of flowers with spring and summer. Additionally, the seasons are considered to change on the same dates everywhere that uses a particular calendar method regardless of variations in climate from one area to another.

''Official'' seasons

As noted, a variety of dates and even exact times are used in different countries or regions to mark changes of the calendar seasons. These observances are often declared "official" within their respective areas by the local or national media, even when the weather or climate is contradictory. However they are mainly a matter of custom only, and have not generally been proclaimed by governments north or south of the equator for civil purposes. As an result of European colonization, the four-season European model is used officially almost throughout the world, although the seasons are reversed between the northern and southern hemispheres.


Meteorological seasons are reckoned by temperature, with summer being the hottest quarter of the year and winter the coldest quarter of the year. In 1780 the Societas Meteorologica Palatina, an early international organization for meteorology, defined seasons as groupings of three whole months as identified by the Gregorian calendar. Ever since, professional meteorologists all over the world have used this definition.
Therefore, for temperate areas in the northern hemisphere, spring begins on 1 March, summer on 1 June, autumn on 1 September, and winter on 1 December. For the southern hemisphere temperate zone, spring begins on 1 September, summer on 1 December, autumn on 1 March, and winter on 1 June. In Australasia the meteorological terms for seasons apply to the temperate zone that occupies all of New Zealand, New South Wales, Victoria, Tasmania, the south-eastern corner of South Australia and the south-west of Western Australia, and the south east Queensland areas south of Brisbane.
Northern hemisphereSouthern hemisphereStart dateEnd date
WinterSummer1 December28 February
SpringAutumn1 March31 May
SummerWinter1 June31 August
AutumnSpring1 September30 November

In Sweden and Finland, meteorologists use a non-calendar based definition for the seasons based on the temperature. Spring begins when the daily averaged temperature permanently rises above 0 °C, summer begins when the temperature permanently rises above +10 °C, summer ends when the temperature permanently falls below +10 °C and winter begins when the temperature permanently falls below 0 °C. "Permanently" here means that the daily averaged temperature has remained above or below the limit for seven consecutive days. This implies two things: first, the seasons do not begin at fixed dates but must be determined by observation and are known only after the fact; and second, a new season begins at different dates in different parts of the country.
The India Meteorological Department designates four climatological seasons:
Astronomical timing as the basis for designating the temperate seasons dates back at least to the Julian calendar used by the ancient Romans. It continues to be used on many modern Gregorian calendars worldwide, although some countries like Australia, New Zealand, Pakistan and Russia prefer to use meteorological reckoning. The precise timing of the seasons is determined by the exact times of transit of the sun over the tropics of Cancer and Capricorn for the solstices and the times of the sun's transit over the equator for the equinoxes, or a traditional date close to these times.
The following diagram shows the relation between the line of solstice and the line of apsides of Earth's elliptical orbit. The orbital ellipse goes through each of the six Earth images, which are sequentially the perihelion on anywhere from 2 January to 5 January, the point of March equinox on 19, 20 or 21 March, the point of June solstice on 20 or 21 June, the aphelion on anywhere from 4 July to 7 July, the September equinox on 22 or 23 September, and the December solstice on 21 or 22 December.
These "astronomical" seasons are not of equal length, because of the elliptical nature of the orbit of the Earth, as discovered by Johannes Kepler. From the March equinox it currently takes 92.75 days until the June solstice, then 93.65 days until the September equinox, 89.85 days until the December solstice and finally 88.99 days until the March equinox.

Variation due to calendar misalignment

The times of the equinoxes and solstices are not fixed with respect to the modern Gregorian calendar, but fall about six hours later every year, amounting to one full day in four years. They are reset by the occurrence of a leap year. The Gregorian calendar is designed to keep the March equinox no later than 21 March as accurately as is practical. Also see: Gregorian calendar seasonal error.
The calendar equinox is 21 March, the same date as in the Easter tables current at the time of the Council of Nicaea in AD 325. The calendar is therefore framed to prevent the astronomical equinox wandering onto 22 March. From Nicaea to the date of the reform, the years 500, 600, 700, 900, 1000, 1100, 1300, 1400 and 1500, which would not have been leap years in the Gregorian calendar, amount to nine days, but astronomers directed that ten days be removed.
Currently, the most common equinox and solstice dates are March 20, June 21, September 22 or 23 and December 21; the four-year average slowly shifts to earlier times as the century progresses. This shift is a full day in about 128 years and as 2000 was a leap year the current shift has been progressing since the beginning of the last century, when equinoxes and solstices were relatively late. This also means that in many years of the twentieth century, the dates of March 21, June 22, September 23 and December 22 were much more common, so older books teach these dates.
Note that all the times are given in UTC. People living farther to the east, whose local times are in advance, will see the astronomical seasons apparently start later; for example, in Tonga, an equinox occurred on September 24, 1999, a date which will not crop up again until 2103. On the other hand, people living far to the west whose clocks run behind UTC may experience an equinox as early as March 19.

Change over time

Over thousands of years, the Earth's axial tilt and orbital eccentricity vary. The equinoxes and solstices move westward relative to the stars while the perihelion and aphelion move eastward. Thus, ten thousand years from now Earth's northern winter will occur at aphelion and northern summer at perihelion. The severity of seasonal change — the average temperature difference between summer and winter in location — will also change over time because the Earth's axial tilt fluctuates between 22.1 and 24.5 degrees.
Smaller irregularities in the times are caused by perturbations of the Moon and the other planets.


Solar timing is based on insolation in which the solstices and equinoxes are seen as the midpoints of the seasons. It was the method for reckoning seasons in medieval Europe, especially by the Celts, and is still ceremonially observed in Ireland and some East Asian countries. Summer is defined as the quarter of the year with the greatest insolation and winter as the quarter with the least.
The solar seasons change at the cross-quarter days, which are about 3–4 weeks earlier than the meteorological seasons and 6–7 weeks earlier than seasons starting at equinoxes and solstices. Thus, the day of greatest insolation is designated "midsummer" as noted in William Shakespeare's play A Midsummer Night's Dream, which is set on the summer solstice. On the Celtic calendar, the start of the seasons corresponds to four Pagan agricultural festivals - the traditional first day of winter is 1 November ; spring starts 1 February ; summer begins 1 May ; the first day of autumn is 1 August.

Other season calendar reckoning

Six Seasons

Some calendars in south Asia use a six-season method where the number of seasons between summer and winter can number from one to three. The dates are fixed at even intervals of months.
In the Hindu calendar of tropical and subtropical India, there are six seasons or Ritu that are calendar-based in the sense of having fixed dates: Vasanta, Greeshma, Varsha, Sharad, Hemanta, and Shishira. The six seasons are ascribed to two months each of the twelve months in the Hindu calendar. The rough correspondences are:
Hindu seasonStartEndHindu MonthsMapping to English Names
VasantaMid-MarchMid-MayChaitra, Vaishakhaspring
GreeshmaMid-MayMid-JulyJyeshtha, Ashadhasummer
VarshaMid-JulyMid-SeptemberShraavana, Bhadrapadamonsoon
SharadMid-SeptemberMid-NovemberAshvin, Kartikaautumn
HemantaMid-NovemberMid-JanuaryMaargashirsha, Pushyaearly winter
ShishiraMid-JanuaryMid-MarchMagh, Phalgunaprevernal or late winter

The Bengali Calendar is similar but differs in start and end times. It has the following seasons or ritu:
Bengali seasonStartEndBengali MonthsMapping to English Names
Bosonto বসন্ত Mid-FebruaryMid-AprilFalgun, ChoitroSpring
Grishmo Mid-AprilMid-JuneBoishakh, JoishthoSummer
Borsha Mid-JuneMid-AugustAsharh, SrabonMonsoon
Shorot Mid-AugustMid-OctoberBhadro, AshwinAutumn
Hemonto Mid-OctoberMid-DecemberKartik, OgrohayonLate Autumn
Sit Mid-DecemberMid-FebruaryPoush, MaghWinter

The Tamil calendar follows a similar pattern of six seasons
Tamil seasonGregorian MonthsTamil Months
MuthuVenil April 15 to June 14Chithirai and Vaikasi
Kaar June 15 to August 14Aani and Aadi
Kulir August 15 to October 14Avani and Purattasi
MunPani October 15 to December 14Aipasi and Karthikai
PinPani December 15 to February 14Margazhi and Thai
IlaVenil February 15 to April 14Maasi and Panguni

The North American Cree and possibly other Algonquian speaking peoples used or still use a 6-season system. The extra two seasons denoting the freezing and breaking up of the ice on rivers and lakes.
Cree seasonApproximate monthsEnglish translation

Three seasons

The most historically important of these are the three seasons—flood, growth, and low water—which were previously defined by the former annual flooding of the Nile in Egypt. In some tropical areas a three-way division into hot, rainy, and cool season is used. In Thailand three seasons are recognised
Thai seasonMonths
Ruedu nao mid October to mid February
Ruedu ron mid February to mid May
Ruedu fon mid May to mid October

Twenty-four seasons

The traditional calendar in China has seasons traditionally based on 24 periods known as solar terms. The four seasons chūn, xià, qiū, and dōng are universally translated as "spring", "summer", "autumn", and "winter" but actually begin much earlier, with the solstices and equinoxes forming the midpoint of each season rather than their start. Astronomically, the seasons are said to begin on Lichun on about 4 February, Lixia on about 6 May, Liqiu on about 8 August, and Lidong on about 7 November. These dates were not part of the traditional lunar calendar, however, and moveable holidays such as Chinese New Year and the Mid-Autumn Festival are more closely associated with the seasons. It forms the basis of other such systems in East Asian lunisolar calendars.

Two seasons

In the tropical parts of Australia in the northern parts of Queensland, Western Australia, and the Northern Territory, wet and dry seasons are observed in addition to or in place of temperate season names.
Northern HemisphereSouthern HemisphereStart dateEnd date
Dry seasonWet season1 November30 April
Wet seasonDry season1 May31 October

Non-calendar-based reckoning

Ecologically speaking, a season is a period of the year in which only certain types of floral and animal events happen. So, if we can observe a change in daily floral/animal events, the season is changing. In this sense, ecological seasons are defined in absolute terms, unlike calendar-based methods in which the seasons are relative. If specific conditions associated with a particular ecological season don't normally occur in a particular region, then that area cannot be said to experience that season on a regular basis. In Great Britain, the onset of spring used to be defined as when the maximum daily temperature reached 50 °F in a defined sequence of days. This almost always occurred in March. However, with global warming this temperature is now not uncommon in the winter.

Modern mid-latitude ecological

Six ecological seasons can be distinguished which do not have fixed calendar-based dates like the meteorological and astronomical seasons. Oceanic regions tend to experience the beginning of the hibernal season up to a month later than. Conversely, prevernal and vernal seasons begin up to a month earlier near oceanic and coastal areas. For example, prevernal crocus blooms typically appear as early as February in coastal areas of British Columbia, the British Isles, but generally don't appear until March or April in locations like the Midwest USA or parts of eastern Europe. The actual dates for each season vary by climate region and can shift from one year to the next. Average dates listed here are for mild and cool temperate climate zones in the Northern Hemisphere:
Indigenous people in polar, temperate and tropical climates of northern Eurasia, the Americas, Africa, Oceania, and Australia have traditionally defined the seasons ecologically by observing the activity of the plants, animals and weather around them. Each separate tribal group traditionally observes different seasons determined according to local criteria that can vary from the hibernation of polar bears on the arctic tundras to the growing seasons of plants in the tropical rainforests. In Australia, some tribes have up to eight seasons in a year, as do the Sami people in Scandinavia. Many indigenous people who no longer live directly off the land in traditional often nomadic styles, now observe modern methods of seasonal reckoning according to what is customary in their particular country or region.
The Noongar people of South-West Western Australia recognise maar-keyen bonar, or six seasons. Each season's arrival is heralded not by a calendar date, but by environmental factors such as changing winds, flowering plants, temperature and migration patterns and lasts approximately two standard calendar months. The seasons also correlate to aspects of the human condition, intrinsically linking the lives of the people to the world that surrounds them and also dictating their movements, as with each season, various parts of country would be visited which were particularly abundant or safe from the elements.
Noongar seasonApproximate MonthsCultural Parallel
Birak December to JanuarySeason of the Young
Bunuru February to MarchSeason of Adolescence
Djeran April to MaySeason of Adulthood
Makuru June to JulyFertility Season
Djilba August to SeptemberSeason of Conception
Kambarang October to NovemberSeason of Birth


In the tropics, where seasonal dates also vary, it is more common to speak of the rainy season versus the dry season. For example, in Nicaragua the dry season is called "summer" and the rainy season is called "winter", even though it is located in the northern hemisphere. There is no noticeable change in the amount of sunlight at different times of the year. However, many regions are subject to monsoon rain and wind cycles.
Floral and animal activity variation near the equator depends more on wet/dry cycles than seasonal temperature variations, with different species flowering at specific times before, during, or after the monsoon season. Thus, the tropics are characterized by numerous "mini-seasons" within the larger seasonal blocks of time.


Any point north of the Arctic Circle or south of the Antarctic Circle will have one period in the summer called "polar day" when the sun does not set, and one period in the winter called 'polar night' when the sun does not rise. At progressively higher latitudes, the maximum periods of "midnight sun" and "polar night" are progressively longer.
For example, at the military and weather station Alert located at 82°30′05″N and 62°20′20″W, on the northern tip of Ellesmere Island, Canada, the sun begins to peek above the horizon for minutes per day at the end of February and each day it climbs higher and stays up longer; by 21 March, the sun is up for over 12 hours. On 6 April the sun rises at 0522 UTC and remains above the horizon until it sets below the horizon again on 6 September at 0335 UTC. By October 13 the sun is above the horizon for only 1 hour 30 minutes, and on October 14 it does not rise above the horizon at all and remains below the horizon until it rises again on 27 February.
First light comes in late January because the sky has twilight, being a glow on the horizon, for increasing hours each day, for more than a month before the sun first appears with its disc above the horizon. From mid-November to mid-January, there is no twilight.
In the weeks surrounding 21 June, in the northern polar region, the sun is at its highest elevation, appearing to circle the sky there without going below the horizon. Eventually, it does go below the horizon, for progressively longer periods each day until around the middle of October, when it disappears for the last time until the following February. For a few more weeks, "day" is marked by decreasing periods of twilight. Eventually, from mid-November to mid-January, there is no twilight and it is continuously dark. In mid January the first faint wash of twilight briefly touches the horizon, and then twilight increases in duration with increasing brightness each day until sunrise at end of February, then on 6 April the sun remains above the horizon until mid October.

Military campaigning seasons

Seasonal weather and climate conditions can become important in the context of military operations.
For navies, the presence of accessible ports and bases can allow naval operations during certain seasons of the year. The availability of ice-free or warm-water ports can make navies much more effective. Thus Russia, historically navally constrained when confined to using Arkhangelsk and even Kronstadt, has particular interests in maintaining and in preserving access to Baltiysk, Vladivostok, and Sevastopol.
Storm seasons or polar winter-weather conditions can inhibit surface warships at sea.
Pre-modern armies, especially in Europe, tended to campaign in the summer months - peasant conscripts tended to melt away at harvest time, nor did it make economic sense in an agricultural society to neglect the sowing season.
Any modern war of manouevre profits from firm ground - summer can provide dry conditions suitable for marching and transport, frozen snow in winter can also offer a reliable surface for a period, but spring thaws or autumn rains can inhibit campaigning. Rainy-season floods may make rivers temporarily impassable, and winter snow tends to block mountain passes.