Sunday, March 20, 2016

First day of Spring - March 19 or 20 ???

Wood Duck Egg drawing
I was in the elevator holding my bag of laundry when a little girl asked me why spring was on the 20th and not the 21st.  Her mother raised her eyebrows and shoulders and shook her head.  I said that it was something to do with the vernal equinox. I realized that I had been wondering about this too.  When I was that little girl's age, spring used to arrive on March 21, but that was back then.  Now with atomic clocks, better calculations, the equinox, and leap year day, in 2016 it is arriving either on the 19th or 20th depending on your time zone.  In the EDT zone of New York, spring came in at 12:30 a.m. on Sunday, March 20, but in other times zones in the U.S. it occurred late on Saturday -- in CDT zone it was 11:30 p.m.; MDT zone, 10:30 p.m.; and PDT zone as in California and Oregon, 9:30 p.m. on Saturday, March 19.  That is really early. Keep in mind that no matter what our clock time says, the equinox itself happens at the same moment worldwide.  

Okay, let’s take a closer look.  As we know a year is 365 days, 5 hours, 48 minutes, and 46 seconds long.  It’s kind of like the Olympics where every second counts.  Part of the reason for the early spring goes back to 2000 when there was a leap year even though we know that years divisible by 100 do not have February 29, but those divisible by 400 do. (see my February 29 post).  So rather unusually 2000 was a leap year.  This made a difference in the calendars to come and equinoxes and solstices will occur earlier.  Bob Berman’s great column for The Old Farmer's Almanac explains this in even more detail.  But getting back to the vernal equinox:  Equinox, a lovely word that comes from the Latin aequus (equal) and nox (night).  Vernal is from the Latin vernalis and refers to spring.  I knew a man named Vernal once; he told me he was born on the first day of spring.  Anyway on the equinox, Earth’s two hemispheres receive close to an equal amount of sunlight, but in actual fact they are not totally equal. Oh dear.  What are we to believe?  

So this year we have a very early spring, the earliest ever in our lifetimes, and I’m here to say, let’s celebrate it.  And to do that, maybe we should try to test out the ancient folklore that you can stand a raw egg on its end on the equinox.  I’ve read a few different findings on this one, so I decided to try it in my kitchen.  One egg did stand for about a second; the others rolled right over.  It may be that my kitchen was not the best place to try this.  But it is cold out today; they are even predicting snow.  Yuck!  So I thought I’d just put a wood duck egg that I drew for the Field Guide on the blog where I know for sure it’ll stand nice and tall, equinox or not. Perhaps a glass of champagne is a better way to welcome spring in anyway.  

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