The Fake First Day of Spring

Today is March 1st…holy crap it’s March already?!?!  When did that happen?  I swear time moves faster every year that goes by.  Anyway, the fact that it is March 1st causes lots of people to hear something strange on TV or the radio.  Meteorologists like to trick people into believing that today is the first day of Spring.  Now we all know that the first day of Spring is March 20, 2012, also known as the Vernal (March) Equinox.

People get all excited when they hear that the equinox is coming up.  They start packing away all their heavy winter coats, hats, glove, snow shovels (unwise!), and thermal underwear.  The equinox is great because you get to see your neighbors again after their deep winter hibernation because their food supplies are running low.  People make last-minute trips to the grocery store to buy eggs.  Not for Easter mind you, but because they’ve eaten the last one and you must at least try to stand one on its end…only to give up after 20 minutes of frustration.  But why this false hope so early in the month?  The equinox isn’t for another 19 days!  The reason meteorologists state is that before we divided the seasons up into precise measurements based on the astronomical calendar we took the easy road and just said that each season was exactly three months long and started on the first of every third month, Spring on 3/1, Summer on 6/1, Autumn on 9/1, and Winter on 12/1.  These months were chosen based on variations in overall temperature.  It was long observed that the temperature began to change on or about the first of every third month.  As we can all tell, this way of reckoning the seasons isn’t terribly inaccurate, but we’ve since discovered a more accurate way of measuring the seasons based on the orbit of our planet around the sun.

Because of the eccentricity of the Earth (its elliptical orbit) and the axial tilt of 23.5 degrees we have varying climates which we call seasons.  When a certain hemisphere (north or south) is pointed towards the sun that hemisphere experiences summer while the other hemisphere experiences winter.  The transitional seasons of spring and autumn occur at the equinoxes when the Earth is midway through its “wobble” and the sunlight hits both hemispheres evenly.  Even once the astronomical reckoning had been established, meteorologists continued to use their own reckoning to determine seasons.

The "official" sign of spring Credit: Florence McGinn

Why do the meteorologists insist on using their way of defining the seasons?  I don’t know.  Perhaps that contributes to why they seem to always get the forecast wrong.  Although, I can’t exactly argue with their theory today.  In Baltimore it is currently 65° and sunny and last night we even had a pretty good thunderstorm which usually don’t happen until actual springtime.  It certainly feels a lot like spring here.  But this is Maryland, the land of inconsistency!  It is my belief that in Maryland we have the wackiest weather in the whole country.  It’s been a very mild winter for the entire east coast but it is definitely not unusual for MD to have a couple days every winter where the temperature reaches 70°.  Then the very next day it will be a chilly 33°. We see snow in April sandwiched by upper 60’s days, cold snaps in the summer, and sometimes snow before Halloween.  So as a way of reaching through all the clutter of when the seasons actually begin I’ve come up with a better way to do it all.  Sports.

I’ve always thought of the seasons this way.  I makes sense.  It’s also extremely simple.  Spring begins on the third Sunday of February when pitchers and catchers report for Spring Training.  Summer begins once the European soccer season ends in late May, after the Champions League Final.  Autumn begins with Week 1 of the NFL season, and winter begins once the NFL playoffs begin and basketball and hockey are in full-swing.  One could even simplify it further by lumping spring & summer together under baseball season and combining autumn and winter together under soccer season.  There is some overlap included since the European soccer season stretches from August to May, but the dividing point is always the beginning of Spring Training.  If only the whole world followed the MLB and NFL then this calendar would be easily recognized by all developed nations.  But alas it is not, so I am forced to officially recognized the two methods we have now while following the athletic method in my heart.  With that being said, go out and enjoy the fake first day of Spring!

About Tim

My name is Tim Phelan. I am a nerd, amateur astronomer, sports nut, and follower of Jesus. I live in Baltimore, MD where the skies are oh so polluted with light. This is Ravens Country, Birdland, and the City that Reads, or whatever. Follow me on acrosstheuniverseinnotime.com and tphelan.wordpress.com

Posted on March 1, 2012, in Earth and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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