Spring: The First Day Of Seasons

Spring: The First Day Of Seasons

 

The beautiful spring came; and when Nature resumes her loveliness, the human soul is apt to revive also. -Harriet Ann Jacobs

Springtime is the land awakening. The March winds are the morning yawn. ~Quoted by Lewis Grizzard in Kathy Sue Loudermilk, I Love YouBeautiful Girl Wallpaper

Spring shows what God can do with a drab and dirty world. ~Virgil A. Kraft

That God once loved a garden we learn in Holy writ.
And seeing gardens in the Spring I well can credit it.
~Winifred Mary Letts

And Spring arose on the garden fair,
Like the Spirit of Love felt everywhere;
And each flower and herb on Earth’s dark breast
rose from the dreams of its wintry rest.
~Percy Bysshe Shelley, “The Sensitive Plant”

The naked earth is warm with Spring,
And with green grass and bursting trees
Leans to the sun’s kiss glorying,
And quivers in the sunny breeze.
~Julian Grenfell

The energy of the earth flows through the veins of springtime. ~Terri Guillemets, “Green lives the purple, orange, yellow,” 2008

 

Hope is a roving gypsy
With laughter on her tongue,
And the blue sky and sunshine
Alone, can keep her young;
And year by year she lingers
Under a budding tree…
~Dora Read Goodale, “The Chorus,” in Country Life in America: A Magazine for the Home-maker, the Vacation-seeker, the Gardener, the Farmer, the Nature-teacher, the Naturalist, April 1902

 

“Can words describe the fragrance of the very breath of spring?” – Neltje Blanchan

“She turned to the sunlight and shook her yellow head, and whispered to her neighbor: ‘Winter is dead’.” – A.A. Milne from When we were very young.

“You can cut all the flowers but you cannot keep spring from coming.” – Pablo Neruda

March is a month of considerable frustration – it is so near spring and yet across a great deal of the country the weather is still so violent and changeable that outdoor activity in our yards seems light years away. – Thalassa Cruso

***

When Does Spring Begin?

In the Northern Hemisphere, the Vernal (Spring) Equinox marks the first day of astronomically speaking  whereas it announces fall’s arrival in the Southern Hemisphere). There’s also another, more common definition of when the seasons start, namely meteorological definitions, which are based on average temperatures rather that astronomical events.

March 19, 2016 is the first day of Spring according to the astronomical definition. It is also called the spring equinox. Spring and “springtime” refer to the season, and broadly to ideas of rebirth, renewal and regrowth. Spring is one of the four temperate seasons, the transition period between winter and summer.

March Equinox 2016 Dates and Times

This year, the vernal equinox arrives on Saturday, March 19 or Sunday, March 20, 2016, depending on your time zone:

  • Saturday, March 19, 2016 at 9:30 PM PDT
  • Saturday, March 19, 2016 at 10:30 PM MDT
  • Saturday, March 19, 2016 at 11:30 PM CDT
  • Sunday, March 20, 2016 at 12:30 AM EDT
  • Sunday, March 20, 2016 at 04:30 UTC (Universal Time)

The specific definition of the exact timing of “spring” varies according to local climate, cultures and customs. At the spring equinox or the first day of spring, days are close to 12 hours long with day length increasing as the season progresses.

On the equinoxes the Sun shines directly on the equator and the length of day and night is nearly equal – but not quite for two reasons. First, daytime begins the moment any part of the Sun is over the horizon, and it is not over until the last part of the Sun has set. If the Sun were to shrink to a starlike point and we lived in a world without air, the spring and fall equinoxes would truly have ‘equal nights.’

The March equinox marks the moment the Sun crosses the celestial equator – the imaginary line in the sky above the Earth’s equator – from south to north and vice versa in September.

Equinox and solstice illustration

Equinoxes and solstice happen twice a year.

In spring, the axis of the Earth is increasing its tilt toward the Sun and the length of daylight rapidly increases for the relevant hemisphere. The hemisphere begins to warm significantly causing new plant growth to “spring forth,” giving the season its name. Snow, if a normal part of winter, begins to melt, and streams swell with runoff. Frosts, if a normal part of winter, become less severe.

Unstable weather may more often occur during spring, when warm air begins on occasions to invade from lower latitudes, while cold air is still pushing on occasions from the Polar regions. Flooding is also most common in and near mountainous areas during this time of year because of snowmelt, accelerated by warm rains. (With material from: Wikipedia)

Meteorologically speaking, in the Northern Hemisphere, the official spring season always begins on March 1 and continues through May 31. Summer begins on June 1; autumn, September 1; and winter, December 1.

  • Weather scientists divide the year into quarters this way to make it easier to compare seasonal and monthly statistics from one year to the next. The meteorological seasons are based on annual temperature cycles rather than on the position of Earth in relation to the Sun, and they more closely follow the Gregorian calendar. Using the dates of the astronomical equinoxes and solstices for the seasons would present a statistical problem because these dates can vary slightly each year.

What is an Equinox?

At the Vernal Equinox, the Sun crosses the celestial equator on its way north along the ecliptic.

All over the world, days and nights are approximately equal. The name equinox comes from Latin words which mean “equal night”—aequus (equal) and nox (night).

On the equinox, Earth’s two hemispheres are receiving the Sun’s rays about equally because the tilt of the Earth is zero relative to the Sun, which means that Earth’s axis neither points toward nor away from the Sun.  (Note, however, that the Earth never orbits upright, but is always tilted on its axis by about 23.5 degrees.)

Scientific explanation aside, our ancestors were more connected to the Sun than we are today. They observed its pathway across the sky; they tracked how the sunrise, sunset, and daylength changed, using the Sun (and Moon) as a clock and calendar. If you have ever been to Stonehenge or Machu Picchu, you’ll see examples of ancient seasonal markers.

equinox_full_width.png

 

Signs of the Equinox in Nature

The vernal equinox signals the beginning of nature’s renewal in the Northern Hemisphere!
  • Worms begin to emerge from the earth. Even the March Moon is called “The Full Worm Moon” for this reason.
  • Notice the arc of the Sun across the sky as it shifts toward the north. Birds are migrating northward, along with the path of the Sun.
  • Speaking of birds, did you know that the increasing sunlight triggers bird song? Cool, eh? Enjoy our Bird Songs page.
  • Trees, shrubs and flowers are sensitive to temperature and daylength, too! Since ancient days, people have used them as indicators of when the weather is right for planting. For example: Blooming crocus are your cue to plant radishes, parsnips and spinach. See more of nature’s signs.
  • Of course, the longer days bring warmer weather! Both we and the animals around us strip off our clothes and heavy coats!
  • Ready, set, plant! March is time to start gardens and sow seeds in many regions. See your personalized Best Planting Dates.

Equinox Folklore

Question: According to folklore, you can stand a raw egg on its end on the equinox. Is this true?

Answer: Folklore or not, this egg trick sounded like a bit of fun to us. One spring, a few minutes before the vernal equinox, several Almanac editors tried this trick. For a full workday, 17 out of 24 eggs stood standing. Three days later, we tried this trick again and found similar results. Perhaps 3 days after the equinox was still too near. Perhaps the equinox has nothing to do with it. Perhaps we just don’t like to take ourselves too seriously! Try this yourself and let us know what happens.

  • Equinox solstice cycle

    Image credit NASA

What Causes Seasons on Earth?

 

Seasons happen because the Earth spins around its own axis which is tilted at an angle of about 23.4 degrees.

Because of this axial tilt, different parts of the Earth point towards or away from the Sun at different times of the year.

Around the June Solstice, the North Pole is tilted towards the Sun and the Northern Hemisphere gets more of the Sun’s direct rays. This is why June, July and August are summer months in the Northern Hemisphere.

At the same time, the Southern Hemisphere points away from the Sun. So, people there have winter during the months of June, July and August. Summer in the Southern Hemisphere happens in December, January, and February, when the South Pole is tilted towards the Sun and the Northern Hemisphere is tilted away.

Tilts in the Same Direction

The direction of the tilt of the Earth does not change – the two hemispheres point towards the same position in space at all times. What changes as the Earth moves around the Sun is the position of the hemispheres in relation to the Sun – the Northern Hemisphere points towards the Sun during northern summer and away from the Sun during the northern winter.

Elliptical Path Around the Sun

The Earth’s path around Sun is not circular, nor is the Sun situated at the center of this circle. Instead, the Earth’s orbit is elliptical, with the Sun closer to one end of the orbital path than the other. This means that the Earth’s distance from the Sun varies throughout the year.

Distance Does NOT Cause Seasons

It is a common misconception that seasons occur because of Earth’s elliptical orbit around the Sun, with winter occurring when the Earth is away from the Sun, and summer when it is closest to it.

The Earth’s movement around the Sun has very little effect on the onset of seasons. In fact, the Earth is actually closest to the Sun or at its Perihelion around the Northern Hemisphere’s winter solstice, while it is farthest away from the Sun or at its Aphelion around the north’s summer solstice!

Little Difference

While the difference in Earth’s distance from the Sun when the Earth is at the two extreme points on its orbit isn’t very large, the Earth receives more solar energy when it is at its Perihelion (during Northern Hemisphere’s winter). However, because continents tend to get warmer faster than oceans, the difference in temperatures during the summer in the ocean rich Southern Hemisphere (when the Earth is at the Perihelion) and the summer in the Northern Hemisphere (when the Earth is at the Aphelion) is very small.

Sources:

timeanddate.com
almanac.com
cute-calendar.com

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