What causes the seasons?
an illustrated explanation

Winter scene. Photo copyrighted.
The earth on it’s axis. Copyright Films for Christ.

“It’s all the school’s fault!” I heard a young boy say. “Every time it starts to get cold outside, I have to go back to school.”

No, it’s not the school’s fault; they can’t change the weather. If they could, there would never be any snow days!

“Well, then maybe it’s the sun’s fault!”

You’re getting closer, but you still haven’t quite got it.

“Who’s fault is it? Why does it have to get cold? I like summer the best!”

It’s not anybody’s fault. The earth tilts a little bit to one side. It’s really the tilt that causes winter to come.

“Hmmm, why is that?”

Here’s how it works

I live in the Northern Hemisphere, which is the part of the earth that is north of the Equator. When the Northern Hemisphere is tilted toward the sun, I experience summer. When the Northern Hemisphere is tilted away from the sun, I experience winter.

How does the tilt of the earth affect the seasons?

Sun overhead Sun at an angle
When the sun is overhead, the sun’s energy is more concentrated. When the sun shines on earth at an angle, the heat is less concentrated (spread over a much larger area).

While the amount of heat coming from the sun stays the same, it is spread over a larger area during the winter than during the summer. This is due to the earth’s tilt. In the summer, the sun shines almost directly overhead when the Northern Hemisphere is pointed toward the sun. In the winter, the sun appears to be much lower in the sky, and the same amount of sunlight has to cover a larger area.

SUMMER in the Northern Hemisphere
Summer in the Northern Hemisphere Notice how the top part of the earth is leaning toward the sun, which means it receives more of the sun’s energy.
WINTER in the Northern Hemisphere
Winter in the Northern Hemisphere Here, the top part of the earth is leaning away form the sun, meaning it receives less energy from the sunlight.

Try it for yourself!

You’ll need to find a flashlight with a bright beam and then go into a dark or a dim room. Turn the flashlight on and hold it straight above a table or some other flat object. Hold it close enough to the table so that you can see a definite circle of light. Notice the size of the circle and the brightness of the light. Now, hold the flashlight the same distance away from the table, but at an angle.

Do you see how much more area the light has to cover when the flashlight is held at an angle? This is the same thing that happens when the light from the sun hits the earth at an angle.

Does the length of the day influence the seasons?

You may have noticed that in the summer the days are longer, and in winter the days are shorter. This is good way to tell when the seasons will change. When the days become longer, the sun has more time to warm the earth. This is why is can get so warm during the summer; all those hours of sunlight really heat things up.

When the days become shorter, the sun does not have as many hours to warm the earth, meaning the overall temperature will drop.

What about the atmosphere? What does it do?

During winter in the Northern Hemisphere, the sun’s light has to travel further through the atmosphere than it does during summer. The atmosphere absorbs some of the heat energy carried by the light. That means that by the time the light reaches the ground, there is less heat energy available to keep things warm.

WINTER in the Northern Hemisphere
While people in the Northern Hemisphere have winter, those in the Southern Hemisphere have summer. Effect of Atmosphere 1

During summer in the Northern Hemisphere, the sun’s light does not have to travel through as much atmosphere to reach the ground. This allows more of the sun’s heat energy to warm the earth.

SUMMER in the Northern Hemisphere
Just as before, when it is summer in the Northern Hemisphere, it is winter in the Southern Hemisphere. Effect of Atmosphere 2

Does that help you understand the seasons a little better? Now, you can know with confidence that your school principal really doesn’t have a secret button hidden in his desk that brings winter!

How is life like the seasons?

Some people love change. They are always wanting to change something. Maybe they want a new car, or a different house, or maybe just a change of scenery.

Some people don’t like change. They would prefer not to move, and would like nothing better than to drive the same old car until it falls apart.

Whether you like change or you don’t, things are constantly changing, and it’s not just the weather. Sometimes these changes are good like when your dad gets a raise, and he is finally able to replace the old junker he’s been driving. Sometimes the change isn’t so good like when your best friend moves to another state.

Did you know that there really is only one thing that never changes? I suppose you want me to tell you what it is now, don’t you? Well, in both the Old and New Testaments of the Bible we are told that God never changes. Malachi 3:6 says, “For I am the LORD, I change not…” and Hebrews 13:8 says, “Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and to day, and for ever.”

If God never changes, then certainly His love for you is always the same. It doesn’t matter whether the changes in your life are good or bad, the LORD wants you to trust that He knows what is best for you.

If you want to know more about the love that God has for you, and how He sent His only Son Jesus, please click on the following link:

Learn more about Jesus!
For young kids | For older kids and adults

Amazing Facts!

Copyrighted
Did You Know?

Areas near the equator receive nearly the same amount of sunlight all year long. Therefore, the weather is almost always the same.

The equator is marked in yellow on the illustration to the left.

Did You Know?

The earth’s tilt and rotation are just right.

The earth's axis, which now points toward the North Star, is tilted just right—at the strange angle of 23 degrees from the perpendicular, that is, in relation to the plane of its orbit.

…For the same reason, there is “twice as much of the land area of the earth than can be cultivated and inhabited as there would be if the sun were always over the equator, with no change of seasons.”

Think what would happen if the earth were tilted any other way than it is.

If the earth had been tilted as much as 45 degrees instead of what it is, temperate zones would have torrid zone heat in the summer and frigid zone cold in the winter.

On the other hand, if the axis of the earth were vertical to the plane of its orbit, January and July would have the same climate and ice would accumulate until much of the continents would be ice-covered six months and flooded the other six months.

If the axis of the earth were horizontal to the plane of its orbit there would result “a crazy jumble of fierce heat and deadly cold,” with prolonged nights on half the earth and prolonged days on the other.

The earth ROTATES at just the right speed, making a complete revolution every twenty-four hours in its trip around the sun. The result is, the earth's crust is evenly heated like a chicken on a turning spit. Were our day a year long, as it is on Mercury, there would be scorching heat on one side, and bitter cold on the other.

If our day of 24 hours were longer or shorter, all present balanced adjustments would be upset, and life on earth would become intolerable, if not utterly impossible.

…The other planets… do not have the same speed, nor do any of them have the same inclination as the Earth.

—Fred John Meldau, Why We Believe in Creation Not Evolution

Do you know why leaves change colors in the fall?

Answer


Learn more about the Creator…

God’s Story Online
The Rainforest: People, Animals and Facts
The Great Dinosaur Mystery Online
Click here for free COLORING PAGES

Author: David J. Sheley, Films for Christ.

Text and illustrations Copyright © 2005, Films for Christ. All Rights Reserved - except as noted on attached “Usage and Copyright” page that grants ChristianAnswers.Net users generous rights for putting this page to work in their homes, personal witnessing, churches and schools.