It’s the first day of spring, when day and night are just about equal in length. The moment occurred at 7:02 a.m. Eastern Time today.
The Southern Hemisphere is preparing to hunker down for winter, but Turtle Island and the rest of the Northern Hemisphere are waiting for the burst of bloom and scent that we equate with the start of the growing season.
However, it’s not happening. At least not just yet.
Winter-like temperatures still reign throughout the northern U.S. and Canada, adorning crocus blooms with snow and threatening to freeze the tentative buds on trees. But that is not likely to last, according to observations from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
“Above-average temperatures this spring are most likely from the Desert Southwest through the central and southern Great Plains, the Great Lakes, and the Eastern U.S., while the Pacific Northwest and Alaska are favored to be cooler than average,” NOAA said in a statement on March 15. “For precipitation, odds favor drier-than-average conditions mainly in the West and parts of the Southeast. Hawaii is favored to be relatively cool and wet.”
On the upside, flooding risk will be low, although it means drought relief is not in sight either.
“For the first time in four years, no area of the country faces a high risk of major to record spring flooding, largely due to the limited winter snowfall,” NOAA said.
Contrary to what some might say, spring’s chilly start is probably not directly related to climate change, according to meteorologist David Epstein, who writes a syndicated blog.
“Winters across North America are highly variable,” he wrote on March 20 on the Boston Globe's website. “Here in the northeastern part of the country our winters fluctuate quite dramatically from year to year. Reliable records go back to the later part of the 19th century, and since then how much snow and cold occur one year is often different from the previous or the one that follows.”
He went on to explain, “There are many meteorological factors that exist across the planet with oscillating phases. Depending on the phase, they can push an area towards colder or warmer temperatures, drier or warmer conditions.”
Although Epstein called the question of whether these oscillations are influenced by human behavior an interesting one, he said that human intervention was not a given in this case, though humans do affect other factors of climate.
“These oscillations are what many meteorologists believe are the primary drivers of climate and one of the many reasons you will often find meteorologists at odds with the theories of climatologists,” he wrote. “Most climatologists would argue that anthropogenic warming will flip the phases of these oscillations more than would otherwise be observed. It’s an interesting, yet unproven scientific question.
It’s what happens when Earth’s equator is directly aligned with the sun, creating day and night nearly equal in length, Space.com explained. If seen from space, the Earth’s poles would be perpendicular to the sun, and the Equator would point straight at it.
Ancient peoples did not have fancy planetarium software, however, and they still figured out when the sun’s and Mother Earth’s ecliptics would cross.
They used other markers, Space.com said, to know when this moment was coming. Their calculations resulted in such monuments as the Mayan Chichen Itza in Mexico’s Yucatan, and the ancient British monolithic site Stonehenge. The ancients did not need to pry into the sky’s intimate details for the relevant information.