Our government did a survey a few years ago, about how people felt about their region’s climate. Believe it or not, 59 percent of those in the Northeast said they liked it. That wasn’t as high an approval as those in the South or West expressed, but it beat out respondents in the Midwest.
When it came to breaking down the four seasons, summer ranked high among all Americans, with 25 percent saying that they eagerly look forward to the warm weather. Fall, however, is the nation’s number-one season, with 29 percent ranking it tops. You may not be surprised to learn that winter is only preferred by seven percent of us.
Living here, you know that in terms of friendliness, crime, clean air and water, recreation and everyday beauty, few parts of the world can beat out our mountains and the rural areas of the Mid-Hudson Valley. If your home isn’t already in a gorgeous spot, chances are you can drive to one in a few minutes.
But this is Earth, not Heaven. There’s got to be some negative. And we all know what it is: Winters are way too long. Unless you’re one of that small minority who say that they prefer winter (and thanks to Obamacare, there’s therapy for such hallucinations), you know that a couple of months of snow would be lovely and fun. However, we find our gardens bare and trees leafless and birds gone and birdsong vanished and smells absent and skin covered from November through March: five months – a long time. Down in Virginia, March is a spring month. Cherry blossoms grace the DC Mall the first week of that month. But here, it’s just more winter: five months.
If you hate winter, you want to know, psychologically, when it’s half over and the nadir has been reached. Surprisingly, this is hard to pin down.
We start off a bit screwy, because the very darkest day (December 21) is already behind us during winter’s first full day (the 22nd). Thus, brightness grows during the entire season. The date when the low-sun period has reached its halfway mark? That’s December 21. So now, in late January, the sun is already much higher up at noon, much stronger and out nearly an hour longer than it did the week before Christmas. Using darkness as a metric, we’re now way past winter’s midpoint.
How about temperature? Well, the statistically coldest week of the season is between January 17 and the 25th. So that’s now behind us, too. Statistically, we’ll now be warmer than the season that has elapsed so far.
Calendarwise? Winter’s midpoint was celebrated throughout Europe – which loved winter as much as we do – as Candlemas, on February 2. That holiday, with marmots thrown in as part of an obscure German tradition, became our Groundhog Day. That’s this week: the calendar midpoint of winter. However, because of the slow precessional cycle, winter’s actual calendar midpoint is now two days later, on February 4.
What about snowfall? Well, March delivers more precip than any other winter month. But sometimes March has it come down as mostly rain. Also, this year we had that odd deep snowstorm around Thanksgiving. Put it all together and – this year, at least – we’re probably about midpoint when it comes to snow, although, as we all know, anything can happen.
To wrap it up: Yes, we’re at the midpoint, except when it comes to solar intensity, where we are now firmly on the bright side of the graph.
After nightfall, remember that Venus has returned very low in the sunset direction each evening in fading twilight. And brilliant Jupiter is back, too. Look for it on Tuesday, February 3, starting around 8:30 p.m., next to the Full Moon.
Want to know more? To read Bob’s previous “Night Sky” columns, visit our Almanac Weekly website at HudsonValleyAlmanacWeekly.com.