Saturday, March 5, 2011

Premature Spring Ejaculations

There is a couple who owns a little shop on the Eastside of Bend selling things for gardening and raising chickens and what-not. On the last day of February they put this message up on the sign in front of their shop: “ONLY 20 DAYS UNTIL SPRING.”

I have never met them, but I have heard they are nice people. I bear them no ill will. I wish them success in their business and happiness in their lives.

But if they really believe that spring comes to Bend on March 20, they are idiots.

March 20, of course, is marked as the first day of spring on all the calendars. But all that means is that on March 20 the sun is directly over the equator at noon and days and nights are of equal length. (Thus the name “vernal equinox.”) On June 21, the summer solstice or first day of summer, the sun will be directly over the Tropic of Cancer at noon, giving the northern hemisphere its longest day.

In reality, however, the date of March 20 means absolutely nothing in Bend. It still looks and feels like winter here, and will look and feel like winter until sometime around the middle of June.

Yesterday our local daily newspaper ran its monthly story about the latest measurements of the depth of the snowpack in the Cascades. The snowpack was looking skimpy in mid-February, but a couple of storms blew through in the latter part of the month and now it’s is pretty much back to normal.

The most interesting thing about the story, though, was a little graph that showed snowpack levels through the year, with trend lines for this year, last year, and the historical average from 1971 to 2000.

The historical average line shows that the snowpack reaches its maximum on April 1 and then starts to decline, as fewer and less fierce storms blow in from the Pacific. By July it’s almost all gone.

Based on this, it would make some sense to observe April 1 as the first day of spring in Bend, or at least as the turning point at which winter begins slowly and grudgingly loosening its icy grip on us. But it would make more sense to celebrate June 15 as the real first day of spring, when winter finally relents and warm, sunny weather arrives at last.

On second thought, maybe June 21, which is observed as the first day of summer in parts of the Northern Hemisphere that have a normal climate, should be celebrated as the first day of spring in Bend.

As for when we'd mark the first day of summer ... well, August 1 seems to be the likely candidate.


Jack Elliott said...

There are few places where the weather lines up nicely with the astronomical seasonal divisions of the year. Perhaps Bend should be using the Ecological seasons system:

Prevernal (ca.1 March–1 May)
Vernal (ca.1 May–15 June)
Estival (ca.15 June–15 August)
Serotinal (ca.15 August–15 September)
Autumnal (ca.15 September–1 November)
Hibernal (ca.1 November–1 March)

Whatcha think?

H. Bruce Miller said...

Way too complicated for Bend residents to keep track of.

Also, I would say the Hibernal season (the season for hibernation) here extends from Nov. 1 to June 15, and there isn't any Prevernal or Vernal season. We go straight from Hibernal to Estival.

Jack Elliott said...

It's feeling decided early Prevernal to me. Maybe pre-Prevernal. Prevernalish. Not at all like December. Gotta pay attention to the subtleties, man!