February 2, 2011

"Punxsutawney Phil predicts early spring."

It's Groundhog Day.

Have you never noticed why it makes perfect sense to consider the beginning of spring on this day in the beginning of February, which seems like the middle of winter? I submit that it really is the end of winter, if you understand winter properly, in terms of the deprivation of light, as opposed to warmth. It's the darkness that hurts. The cold is bracing. Put on a fuzzy sweater!

Officially, winter begins on the solstice, but that is the darkest day of the year. If you care about light, half of the darkest days are already over when winter officially begins. And the phenomenon of each day getting darker is completely over. Winter understood in terms of darkness would put the solstice at its center and extend a month and a half in either direction. Thus, if the solstice is December 21, as it was this year, then true winter — light-sensitive winter — began around November 6 and ends a few days from now, around February 5th.

Kids, it's Spring! Wake up and smell the daffodils!

47 comments:

tim maguire said...

Sounds like a good idea. I'm getting cabin fever, the house is a mess because I don't have the energy to stay on top of it, the endless dreary dimness of the days and long darkness of the nights is getting me down.

The one good thing I take out of winter is that the days get longer. The first few weeks, I actually check the weather page to see what time sundown is (4:50 PM a month ago!) and cheer each day when it's a minute or two later. We are finally at the time when I can see the day is longer just by looking out the window.

Still, in this winter like few others, I cannot wait for the snow to melt. We've had constant cover for over 5 weeks now--which has not happened around here for a long time. I bought my daughter a wagon for Christmas and it's been used once. The sidewalks are usually too narrow, the intersections too blocked for the stroller. Getting a two year old out in the snow is no easy task.

-Peder said...

Ann, you're exactly right. I think this is the way the change of seasons used to be talked about. That's why Midsummer is celebrated on the the summer solstice instead of early August.

peter hoh said...

Spring will come, though Winter is not through.

So long as the sun shines brightly, I can take the cold.

SteveR said...

Not to be a nerdy science type but weather/temperatures lag behind daylight. It takes awhile for the arctic to warm up. I do like it when it doesn't get dark so early though.

Alex said...

I can't take the cold. Put me in Palermo.

AllenS said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
AllenS said...

Peter,

Remember, March is usually the snowiest month.

AllenS said...

What will happen if Al Gore sees his shadow today?

Ambrose said...

Winter only starts on the solstice if you follow the newfangled American astro-almackarian types. Groundhog day is a cross-quarter day, still known as Candlemas in the rest of Christendom/Anglosphere. Yule was traditionally Mid-Winter, antipodal to Mid-Summer. Neither is the "beginning" of anything, nor are they celebrated as such in most of the rest of the world.

Geoff Matthews said...

I have an aversion to sunlight, and actually enjoy the days getting shorter. Now that we're in February, the glare of the sun off of the snow is too much light for my eyes.
And I find the cold invigorating. Probably a coping mechanism, but it hasn't killed me yet.

Phil 3:14 said...

Rationalization much!?

Triangle Man said...

Love the bright sunlight on the freshly fallen snow. Spring is not without snow in Wisconsin. Snow on Mothers' Day is common.

edutcher said...

Thank you, Mommy! Can I go out and play?

AllenS said...

Peter,

Remember, March is usually the snowiest month.


Depends where you are. On the East Coast, the last bad snow - many times the last snow - is on Valentine's day weekend (there's a message there somewhere). It may be yucky for a while, but the snow is gone.

Further north and west, you're probably right.

PS I mentioned in the blizzardification post I saw a raft of geese today.

Looks like I've just had a second opinion.

Bill said...

And the coldest quarter of the year lags the darkest by a few weeks, so defining winter as December, January, & February (in the northern hemisphere) is a sensible choice.

Happy Imbolc / Candlemas, everyone!

Mary Beth said...

Daffodils aren't very fragrant.

MadisonMan said...

Total agreement about the light coming back. The sun is almost feeling warm -- that'll happen in about two weeks.

AllenS said...

edutcher,

Peter Hoh doesn't live that far from me.

jr565 said...

Seasons are in fact artificial constructs, just as time is. So there really is no such thing as "winter". As such, winter could bbe the first week of June if that's how we want to define it, just as 2 could be the number 3 if we so choose.
So how do you want to define it, based on weather or based on light?
Of course, I view calendars differently than most people. Instead of 12 months I have 3 months and I only have 3 seasons, all defined by me. So technically we are in the season called "Cold as f*ck" in the month of "I hate the cold". I like my calendar better.

traditionalguy said...

To me Winter means freezing cold and windy days. The angle of the sun does get better from around January 12 on, but the caravan of jet stream storms we call the Siberian Express usually starts then and continues until late February/ early March. If you look at a point on a 365 point circle, there is insignificant change in direction during a given 20 days either side of that point.It travels almost a straight line for 20 days, and then it suddenly begins a significant change. Also, did anyone notice that Easter is almost a month later than usual this year?

jr565 said...

Also I base when the seasons change on how animals perceive it. So in the case of "winter" I refer to Punxataney Phil. When it comes to Summer I refer to a horse named Larry. If his tail wags then it's summer at the alloted time. If not then it's still spring.
For spring I refer to an aardvark named Bill. And for Autumn there is a duck named Billy.

aronamos said...

Here in the trans-Potomac, it's suddenly 50 degrees and sunny. Of course, this is the meteorological equivalent of Obamacare. Tonight it'll be in the 20s, everything will freeze and I'll probably have a wreck on the way to work.

wv: imphoo. Bless you.

rick said...

Apparently Punxsutawney Phil is pro-life.

dont tread 2012 said...

This was sent to me a few weeks ago, and is appropriate:

PROFOUND COINCIDENCE

Occasionally there are calendar events that occur on the same day, which when put together seem to impart special meaning. Two such events will coincide in February of 2011.

This year, both Groundhog Day and the State of the Union address occur on the same day.

It is an ironic juxtaposition of events. One involves a meaningless ritual in which we look to a creature of little intelligence for prognostication, while the other involves a groundhog.

wv - reank

Overwhelming odor - reek and rank

Smilin' Jack said...

If you care about light, half of the darkest days are already over when winter officially begins.

Since I don't do dawn, I only care about the length of the afternoon. Due to the ellipticity of the Earth's orbit, the earliest sunset is actually in early December, well before the solstice, and afternoons get longer from then on.

MB said...

The first day of a season is not a universal convention. I recall reading about different societies using different dates. IIRC, the winter solstice is mid winter in China, which makes far more sense to me.

MikeR said...

"I actually check the weather page to see what time sundown is (4:50 PM a month ago!) and cheer each day when it's a minute or two later." But do check the time of sunrise as well - they aren't in synch. The longest day will generally not be the same day as the latest sunset.

Tibore said...

"Kids, it's Spring! Wake up and smell the daffodils!"

Can't. They're all buried under ice here in the midwest. :-(

edutcher said...

AllenS said...

edutcher,

Peter Hoh doesn't live that far from me.


As I said, Further north and west, you're probably right.

Stay warm and safe, guys.

peter hoh said...

Allen is right. February can see our coldest temps in the upper midwest, when Arctic air slips down over us.

And March often brings the heaviest snow totals.

Not sure where I'm gonna put it.

peter hoh said...

don't tread: seriously? You believe the email that says that Groundhog Day and the State of the Union speech are on the same day this year?

AllenS said...

Peter,

If we get much more snow, there will be some major flooding this spring. I worked downtown St. Paul in 1965 when we had a big snowfall and then in April we had very warm temps and the snow started to melt very fast. The first floor of the building flooded.

Fred4Pres said...

But there is a good reason to put winter following the solitice. Because of the lag between solar angle and resulting weather, the harshest part of the season usually follows the solitice.

Fred4Pres said...

As a kid I would chace ground hogs. For fat giant squirrels, they sure can run fast. I was not a bad sprinter as a kid and I never caught one.

dont tread 2012 said...

@peter hoh

No. Its just a joke. May have been a carry over from last year or the year before that.

rhhardin said...

I always think of noon as around 4pm, when it's hottest.

MadisonMan said...

Not sure where I'm gonna put it.

Same. Spent some time moving snow from the driveway down to the terrace along the road. The perils of a shared drive between two houses.

jr565 said...

How would it work in Alaska where there are whole months of night and day?

Firehand said...

After clearing the walk and drive from the blizzard out here, if the little bastard lies to us I'm going to turn him into a sporran.

gadfly said...

Althouse is going out-of-state to find a woodchuck to do the February groundhog forecast bit.

So did Jimmy from Sun Prairie tick you off this year?

TML said...

I've fucked with people's brains for years with my simple (and correct) observation that December 21st is actually the first day of Summer and June 21st the first day of Winter. Temp, as AA points out, doesn't matter. It's LIGHT. When the days start getting longer, that's Summer. Period. And when they start getting shorter, Winter. Thank you.

dont tread 2012 said...

@TML

Good luck CONVINCING anyone that it is currently summer.

Its temperature, I don't give a fuck what 'AA' says, whoever they are.

Bob K said...

I question Punxsutawney Phil's prediction.

He has been doing these forecasts for about 125 years. Yet I've never seen him wear glasses. What makes people think he is still capable of seeing his own shadow?

traditionalguy said...

The puzzles move along. Did you know that if you were born January 12, 1951, than January 12 2011 is the first day of your 61st year. Sorry about that.

Richard Fagin said...

Spring? I don't think so. It's going to snow in Houston on Friday.

Richard Fagin said...

....and not that I don't appreciate the light deprivation for all of you living above 40 degrees or so north latitude, but spend a July afternoon on the white sand on S. Padre Island, and you will understand the literal meaning of the word "dazzle." I have come to really like the winter since moving to Texas.

Foobarista said...

It also happens to be Chinese New Year's Day this year, which in Chinese actually translates as Spring Festival (Chun Jie). So, it must be spring if the traditions of two continents agree :)

Sofa King said...

When Chekhov saw the long winter, he saw a winter bleak and dark and bereft of hope. Yet we know that winter is just another step in the cycle of life. But standing here among the people of Punxsutawney and basking in the warmth of their hearths and hearts, I couldn't imagine a better fate than a long and lustrous winter.