The official start of spring, also known as the vernal equinox, arrives March 20. My dogs and I welcome this time with pleasure because we can be outside longer with more daylight. The grass turning green always makes me happy because it means less mud tracked into the house by our ten feet. Add warmer breezes and sun to the mix and the winter is quickly forgotten.
Equinox is Latin for equal night. The sunrise today at 7:25 am and sunset tonight at 7:32 pm indicates a seven minute difference between hours of daylight and darkness. Though the day and night are not exactly equal at 12 hours each, they are very close to equal, so the term equinox is widely accepted.
The earth has two equinoxes, one in spring and one in autumn. It also has two solstices, or times when the sun appears to stand still. The solstices occur in summer and winter. They are noticeable because the winter solstice occurs on the shortest day of the year and the summer solstice takes place on the longest day of the year. The graphic below illustrates the earth’s equinoxes and solstices.
Ready, Set, Grow!
Spring is one of the four seasons that brings rapid, noticeable changes to our Southwestern Pennsylvania home. The bulbs peeking up from the ground show signs of life, offering promise for colorful blooms. Tiny tree buds dot the branches of the maple, plum, apple, and tulip trees in our yard. Other trees follow with their buds, and on the first warm day, the tree tops explode with little green and red leaves.
What causes this growth? The simple answer is light from the sun, which provides energy for germination, leaf and bud development, and blooming. The vernal equinox marks the beginning of more sunlight and warmer days. The warmer temperatures also facilitate plant growth.
You can observe this for yourself during the first warm spell of the season. After a few days or hours (depending on how high the temperature climbs), you will see a marked change in the size of tree buds and soil sprouts. This rapid growth is due to the light duration and heat generation of the sun.
Teeming with Life and…Snow?
During spring, signs of life appear all around as nature wakes up from the winter cold. The pond over the hill fills with rain water, allowing geese, ducks, and deer a fresh drink on their way through the property. Birds call in the morning, singing praises of the day to come. Colors and hues offer vibrant displays of life and energy.
But sometimes the calendar start of spring and the weather do not coincide. The start of spring in my area this year began with wet snow. This is not uncommon, and some farmers refer to the last snowfall as an onion snow. With temperatures below 40°F most of the day, some may consider it a less than stellar start to spring. However, nature keeps us moving forward despite the weather, and at some point, the two come to terms and cooperate.
What Makes This Year’s Vernal Equinox Special?
Sometimes the vernal equinox coincides with other natural events for a spectacular show. This year, the vernal equinox coincides with a solar eclipse and a supermoon. So, in a way, this makes up for having snow on the first day of spring.
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