The Wisdom of Winter

coverWhat does our cover picture bring to your mind? Do you see it as a winter wonderland, full of beauty and wonder; or do you see it as a pain in the neck with bad driving, car under
      snowback-breaking snow shoveling, and a general nuisance? Our situation in life from minute-to-minute can affect how we answer that question, but the fact is that when you look at winter and what it brings to earth and all things that live on the earth what you see is incredible wisdom and planning.

Many of us do not understand that winter is a natural product of the existence of the earth or any other planet orbiting a star. The angle at which the rays of the star strike the surface of the planet depends upon the latitude of the point in question. A latitude perpendicular to the ray will have a very high absorption of the energy of that ray (see A in the drawing to the right). At a higher or lower latitude (see B or C) the angle will be lower and more of the ray’s energy will be deflected away from the surface. That means that the energy absorbed by the planet will be less — and that means winter.

earthFor a planet to sustain life, there has to be an adaptation or accommodation of that life for the conditions that are present. In the case of the earth, that is done primarily by the presence of large amounts of water, and the system works because of the design of water.

sledderWater is a polar molecule, meaning that it has a geometry about its molecules that allows water to form a solid that has a lower density than its liquid state. That is the reason ice floats. This polar molecular structure also causes water to freeze into beautiful crystal structures, like snow flakes.

Water has a relatively high freezing point so that it forms a solid at a temperature close to its vaporization temperature. Only 100 degrees Celsius separate water as a solid from water as a vapor at normal atmospheric pressure, so snow forms quite easily. All at the same time, water can exist in equilibrium as a gas, a liquid, and a solid, a condition we call slush. Scientists refer to this as the “triple point” of water. For most of us such information is taken for granted, but it is critical for life to exist on this planet.

deerIn addition to the thermodynamic properties related to its state as a solid, water is a very poor conductor of heat. The Psalmist stated it well when he said “He giveth snow like wool …” (Psalm 147:16). In the liquid state this property allows lakes to have different temperatures at different levels. Most of us have had the experience of diving into a lake and hitting a layer of cold water, called the “thermocline,” some depth below the surface. Fishermen know about this layer but it can exist only because heat is cardinalnot conducted well through the water. Ice on the lake and snow on the ground also serve as wonderful insulators because of this property. That means lakes do not freeze to the bottom in winter, protecting fish from being killed. It also means that the surface of the earth is insulated by snow in winter. This protects plants and their roots as well as storing water for the coming summer.

In many places on the planet the main source of water during the summer months is the melting snow that stored water during the winter and releases it gradually as the snow melts. One is reminded of this in Psalm 147:17 –18 “He casteth forth his ice like morsels: who can stand before his cold? He sendeth out his word and melteth them: he causeth his wind to blow, and the waters flow.”

girl with snow
      friendsFor the small creatures of the earth, this insulation not only keeps their survival rate high in winter by keeping them warm, but they form tunnels and have a secure environment throughout the winter season. Predators have to find them by sound, because they are not visible as they move freely beneath the layer of snow. (See Dandy Designs “Foxes and Magnetic Range-finders” on page 25.)

snowplowingWinter is also a time of freedom from insects and disease which are less able to bring about their afflictions in cold weather. While mankind may find winter a difficult time primarily because our machines do not work as well in the snow and ice, most animals are blessed with a positive time during the winter months.

In this publication over the years we have discussed a variety of ways in which animals have been equipped to deal with winter. Hibernation, storage of food, migration, symbiotic relationships, environmental modification, and physiological adaptation are just a few of the many ways animals handle the cold and dark. (You can find these articles on our website by using the bimonthly search engine or go to and select examples from the listing on that site). You can explain all of these adaptations as a product of biologically driven chance, or you can look at it as a beautiful example of the wisdom and planning of God. We would suggest the latter better fits the variety, complexity, and level of design we see around us. The more we know of the creation, the closer we get to the Creator.
--John N. Clayton
Cover photo, photos, and illustrations in this article: © Roland Earnst

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