Spring Equinox is Early This Year

[March 2020 | By Kathryn R. Burke]

This year, the Spring (or Vernal) Equinox will be at 9:49 P.M., Mountain Time, March 19, the same day as the full moon. It signals the astronomical start of spring in the Northern Hemisphere and the beginning of fall in the Southern. The Spring Equinox always falls on March 19, 20, or 21. It’s the precise moment when the sun is exactly above the equator.

Equinox, translated from Latin, means “equality of night and day.” When it happens (twice a year, in the spring and the fall), day and night are of equal length: 12 hours each. From the Spring Equinox until the Summer Solstice (the longest day, which falls on June 20 this year), the days start getting longer and warmer as the sun moves north across the celestial equator. Vernal, in Latin, means “fresh,” “new,” or “rebirth.” It’s a big deal, because the Vernal Equinox is the start of the growing season—historically (and before refrigeration and mass transportation) when we grew the food that would sustain us through the winter. Today, we can grow our food in whichever hemisphere is experiencing a summer season and ship it to its polar opposite.

What does Spring Equinox mean for us in Southwest Colorado? We trade our snow boots for flip flops and think about switching from hot toddys to margaritas.

Regardless of what the weather is actually doing (and in our part of the country, that could mean snow), we get ready to dig in the dirt. If we are farmers, we burn ditches (or call Pond Mountain to clear them spring and fall), help birth and brand new livestock, plow and plant our fields. If we are home gardeners, we start our seed pots and do garden prep. And whichever kind of grower we are, we likely consult the Farmer’s Almanac, which has been advising farmers since 1818!

That publication tells us that, this year, we’re about to experience the earliest Vernal Equinox in 124 years! How, why is that happening? According to the Farmer’s Almanac:

A year isn’t an even number of days and neither are the seasons. … The earth’s elliptical orbit is changing its orientation (skew), which causes the earth’s axis to constantly point in a different direction, called “precession.” Since the seasons are defined as beginning at strict 90-degree intervals, these positional changes affect the time the earth reaches each 90-degree location in its orbit around the sun. The pull of gravity from the other planets also affects the location of the earth in its orbit. The current seasonal lengths for the Northern Hemisphere are:

Summer—93.641 days; Autumn—89.834 days; Winter — 88.994 days; Spring—92.771 days. …The warm seasons, spring and summer, combined are 7.584 days longer than the cold seasons, fall and winter.

This means that here in Southwest Colorado, we’ll have far more days to garden and a lot less need to shovel snow—good news if you prefer warm weather. If you’d rather ski, you can always vacation in the opposing hemisphere!

Many of us are already experiencing Cabin Fever, tired of winter, ready for spring and summer. We’re cleaning out closets, putting away winter gear (maybe a little too soon, but, oh how we look forward to warmer weather). We’re buying garden tools, airing up the tires on the wheelbarrow, visiting nurseries, strolling through Camelot Gardens, ordering our hanging baskets, and buying seeds, and getting ready for flowers to bloom and grow fresh vegetables in our gardens!