Wednesday, June 21, 2017

The shortest day

Today was the shortest day of the year. Well, the day wasn’t actually any shorter, of course, but in one sense it was. And that confusion is only compounded when people contemplate when seasons will change. Or the weather.

The June Solstice arrived in New Zealand at 4:24pm this afternoon. That means that today had the shortest amount of daylight hours for the year, and now the days all start getting longer (it’s the exact opposite for our poor friends in the Northern Hemisphere). It’s the shortness of daylight hours people are referring to when they talk about “the shortest day”, and while I would’ve thought that was bloody obvious, apparently for some it isn’t.

Solstices and equinoxes also have nothing to do with weather—they merely mark the sun’s position north and south of the equator thanks to the earth’s axial tilt. Put another way, in a sense it’s really kind of imaginary: The sun is where it always is and the only thing that changes is whether the top of the earth is tilting toward the sun or away from it.

The talk of days getting longer or shorter is also kind of pointless. First, right after the solstice the changes are seconds or a minute, eventually increasing a little bit. But because the speed of change is so slow, neither winter nor summer end just because of a solstice.

In fact, some of the worst winter weather in New Zealand is often in July, the month following the solstice. Moreover, true spring weather—as opposed to merely mild weather—doesn’t arrive until maybe September, possibly October, and sometimes not even until November, the month before summer begins. Actually, when we can truly notice there are more hours of daylight, that’s when the weather seems to warm up a bit. Like I said, these astronomical events have very little to do with weather.

Even so, many of us look forward to the winter solstice because it’s a reminder that spring will return. Some of us (well, okay, maybe just me…) like to pretend that the lengthening days are noticeable immediately, and it means we can look forward to the return of warm weather. I wonder, though, will climate change affect that eager anticipation?

This year we mark our winter solstice with a major storm bearing down on us. There will be severe wind and rain in the upper North Island, and snow in the South Island. Yippee.

Overall, Northland, where the storm hits first, Auckland, Bay of Plenty, and, in the South Island, Canterbury, are expected to get the worst of it. Yippee again. We’ve had several storms this autumn and winter, and I’m not keen on another. I’m supposed to go do the grocery shopping tomorrow, and I thought I might make a couple more stops. I think I’ll decide all that based on the weather. It’s not like I don’t have plenty to keep me busy here in the house.

Welcome to the shortest day, Southern Hemisphere 2017 Edition. Pardon me if I don’t break out in spring celebrations quite yet.

The image accompanying this post is a screen grab of something Facebook posted for us Southern Hemisphere folks today. The birds were animated. I also noted that Facebook called it “winter solstice” when “June solstice” is the normally accepted term nowadays. I think they were trying to go all local on us—even spelling “cosy” the way we do in New Zealand.


rogerogreen said...

But you are in the It country! http://www.nbcnews.com/megyn-kelly/video/the-americans-are-coming-the-obsession-with-new-zealand-970813507783

Arthur Schenck (AmeriNZ) said...

And, just like that, another blog post topic is born…