Winter Weather Roundup from the CSA Science Team

CSA got its start in Chicago in the 1990s. In the early days of the company, talk about “winter weather” usually consisted of gripes and groans about face-freezing temperatures and digging out of multiple feet of snow. 

But times have changed. Now, with CSA’s nationally distributed workforce and globally located partners, the winter weather conversation has gotten a lot more interesting. So, what does winter look like these days for different members of our team? And why, scientifically speaking, is that the case?

Winter in the Northern Hemisphere

Recall that winter in the Northern Hemisphere happens because of Earth’s tilt away from the sun at this time of year. Due to this tilt, sunlight reaches the Northern Hemisphere for fewer hours of the day than in summer. Plus, the light that reaches us strikes at a less direct angle. All of this results in less heating from sunlight and, consequently, colder temperatures.

Of course, your location within the Northern Hemisphere makes a difference in the winter weather you can expect. For instance, your latitude—which is essentially your distance from the equator—plays a major role. The closer you are to the equator, the less pronounced the differences are between summer and winter sunlight.

With this in mind, let’s visit some of our CSA team members to learn about their winter weather.

Winter Climate for CSA Team Members

Chicago, Illinois

Who’s there? John, Teresa, Brian, Joanna, Ron, Eric, Bellamy, Andrea, Kerri, Amber, Jen, Corrie, Angel, Via, and Kim 

Average minimum temperature in January: 19 F

Winter in Chicago, Illinois

Chicago, Illinois, is still our “home base,” as our physical office and multiple staff members are located in this area. At about 40 degrees north latitude, Chicago is the same distance from the equator as Rome, Italy, and Istanbul, Turkey. Yet Chicago gets way more snow than those cities—what gives?

The Science: The answer lies in what scientists and meteorologists (and Chicagoans) call the “lake effect.” Winds blowing over the relatively warm waters of Lake Michigan in the winter pick up heat and moisture: This translates into greater snowfall for the Chicago region (and more shoveling for our coworkers).

Tucson, Arizona

Who’s there? Katie D.

Tucson, Arizona

Average minimum temperature in January: 40 F

Tucson, Arizona, at 32 degrees north latitude, is located within the scenic Sonoran Desert. As a desert locale, Tucson doesn’t present the same kinds of challenges as a Chicago winter. But our bet is that Katie still needs a winter hat and coat from time to time. 

The Science: Low moisture levels in the desert mean that the soil and air don’t retain much heat when the sun goes down. So, even though it can be mild during the daytime in winter, temperatures can drop rapidly at night. If Katie and her family want even colder temps and some likely snow (as shown in this picture), they can enjoy a dramatic change of elevation with a day trip up nearby Mount Lemmon. More on why altitude and elevation matter, coming up next.

Puebla, Mexico

Who’s there? Gabriela 

Average minimum temperature in January: 35 F

Even farther south than Tucson, Arizona, is Puebla, Mexico. Puebla has a latitude of 19 degrees north. With a location relatively close to the equator, you might think Gabriela is basking in mild temperatures year round—but that’s not quite the case.

Puebla, Mexico

The Science: Puebla is located on a high plateau, at an altitude of about 7,000 feet above sea level. How does this affect Gabriela’s winter climate? Air pressure decreases with altitude, and decreasing pressure results in decreasing temperatures (due in part to a process called Adiabatic cooling). So, the higher altitude in Puebla spells lower pressure and temperature, meaning Gabriela does get some cooler winter weather, even down in Mexico. 

Gabriela reports that some people in Puebla aren’t quite sure how to handle the winter chill: “You can see people wearing boots and parka jackets under the sun! Just because it’s winter!”

“Winter” Weather for Our Partners Outside North America

Looking even farther afield, what does winter mean for some of our partners outside of North America?

Partners in ​​Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates

The United Arab Emirates is in the Northern Hemisphere, with a latitude of about 23 degrees north. Our partners here enjoy a winter climate similar to that of Arizona—arid or semi-arid desert with warm days and cool nights.

Partners in Tokyo, Japan

Our partners in Tokyo, Japan, are located at 35 degrees north latitude—not much farther south than Chicago. But Tokyo winters remain relatively mild, thanks in part to the Kuroshio Current, a major Pacific ocean current that brings warm water from the south.

Partners in Brisbane, Australia… Where it’s not winter at all!

Australia is in the Southern Hemisphere, which at this time of year is tilted toward the sun. Therefore, it’s summer, not winter, for our partners Down Under. Temperatures in January in Brisbane hover around 80°F—a fact that they don’t let us forget on our status calls!

It’s Always the Season for Science

One way to help ensure scientific knowledge “sticks” is to tie it with familiar, real-life phenomena. For example, local weather-related experiences like those we discuss above are the perfect vehicle for learning about concepts in Earth and Environmental Sciences. At CSA, our Science team is well-versed in this instructional strategy, called phenomenon-based learning, and ready to apply it to your next project. No matter where in the world you are (or what your weather is like), we’ll ensure your next Science project is a success.