One of the clever (but anonymous) commenters declares:
Umm… Chuck, Doesn’t spring start this saturday??
And that got me thinking about spring. And how spring pretty much starts when you want to say it starts. Is there reason to be a stickler about the seasons, and when they begin or end? The short answer is, “No.”
Astronomically, spring is one of 4 seasons that divide the year based on what part of its orbit the Earth is in. The actual effects observed during the seasons is governed by the tilt of the Earth, which can be assumed to be basically constant. As the Earth moves, the tilt causes the place where you live to get the Sun’s rays at varying angles.
In the winter, the angle is very shallow, so the rays become weak and the Sun appears low in the sky. A lower-in-the-sky Sun makes the days shorter because the sun spends more time below your horizon. In the summer, the Sun is high in the sky, days are longer, and the Sun’s rays are shining on us more directly.
OK, that’s all good stuff. But it’s an astronomical definition of “season,” which is not the only definition. In fact, the astronomical definition of spring, while very useful to scientists, is of very little use to you in your everyday life. You can’t really be blamed if you don’t think it’s spring until the snow is long gone.
In Ireland, the seasons traditionally change on month boundaries, not in the middle of the month. This makes a lot more sense from a human standpoint because it’s one less thing to keep track of. And your everyday person thinks about the seasons more as a weather-related thing than an astronomical phenomenon.
Then there are holidays that people perennially call “the official start of the summer season” or “the last weekend of the summer” based partly on weather, but also on social calendar events. The beginning of school, the last planned cookout, the first visit to the beach, a strategically-placed 3-day weekend… all these things have an impact on how people perceive the seasons.
We even talk about seasons sometimes being missing completely. Many times here in New England you will hear people complain that we don’t have a spring. We’ll have wintery weather until March, and suddenly the temperature will shoot up to what we expect in our summers. (New Englanders are a lot less ready to jettison autumn. It’s in the blood.)
Even in normal years, local weather varies widely across the globe, with some areas more reasonably dividing their seasons based on “dry vs. rainy” or other factors. Of course, the southern hemisphere is experiencing its summer when we northerners have our winter. To their eyes, the subjectivity of the seasons is obvious.
When it comes down to it, there is enough ambiguity that you are well-justified in ignoring all of the conventions of season-change. Choose your own. If you said “Let’s have a cookout this summer” would anyone really reject a date in June just because the solstice had not yet occurred? If so, that person would likely find his cookout invitations diminishing in proportion to how often he clung to his argument.
Ed King and I have an ongoing jibe about this. He sees the first good weather of the year and declares “Spring is here!” But then I find some silly reason to call it autumn instead, pushing the blurry line to a ridiculous degree. But, in reality, we have agreed that there is not much basis in telling someone it’s not spring if they want to consider it spring, especially anywhere near the traditional spring months.Posted by James at March 18, 2004 2:43 PM