Opinion

Like late light? Head west

In the U.S., we have four time zones, Eastern, Central, Mountain and Pacific, and most folks know that it’s 3 hours earlier on the West Coast than it is on the East Coast.

The Eastern Time Zone, which we’re in, extends all the way from the Maine/New Brunswick border to Michigan.

The time is the same everywhere in each time zone, so when it is 8:30 p.m. in Caribou, it’s also 8:30 p.m. in Detroit.

But the story changes when we start talking about sunrises and sunsets. Within the same time zone they are quite different.

I just returned from a trip to southern Ontario, and it was still broad daylight at 9:15 pm. Families were taking mid-evening strolls, kids were riding bikes. It was great. If you want your sunlight to extend as late as possible into the evening, you want to live in the western part of a time zone.

Switching gears, now that the summer solstice has occurred, daylight will begin to get shorter. By the end of this month, Caribou will have lost 4 minutes of daylight. However, don’t despair — sunsets do not get earlier than 8 p.m. until Aug. 5. So there will still be plenty of evening daylight to enjoy in the weeks ahead.

Speaking of the sun, there is a nifty little fact that surprises a lot of folks. Due to our elliptical orbit around the sun, there is a moment when we are at our closest approach to it. This is called “perihelion.” When we are farthest from the sun, it is called “aphelion.” This year, 2018, our closest approach was on Jan. 3, when we were 91.4 million miles from the sun. But check this out: we’ll be about 3 million miles FARTHER away from the sun at aphelion, on July 6.

So at our warmest time of the year, we are 3 million miles farther from the sun than at our coldest time of the year. Clearly it is not the Earth’s distance from the sun that governs the change of seasons. Instead, it is the tilt of the earth on its axis as it orbits the sun, causing the northern hemisphere to receive more solar energy per square meter in our summer than in our winter. A search of “Earth Orbit”, then “images” on Google, will immediately take you to a lot of great examples, showing our orbit around the sun.

By the way, our summer is winter in the Southern Hemisphere.  So if you are a REAL aficionado of winter sports, you can enjoy them all year long, though you’d have to live half the year near ski resorts in the Southern Hemisphere.

I’ll close this week by putting out a call to anyone who has recorded late frosts over the years. I received reports of frost from folks in The County on June 11, 12 and 15 this year. And tonight, the night I am submitting this column, it’s the first night of summer, and we may see pockets of lowland frost by morning. I’d love to hear from people who have tracked late frosts, especially those who have lived in the same place for a long while.

You can email me at tshapiro@wagmtv.com. You can also leave a voice message by calling 764-4461, then extension #261 (must hit the “#” symbol). Thanks in advance.

Ted Shapiro holds the Broadcast Seal of Approval from both the American Meteorological Society and the National Weather Association. An Alexandria, Va. native, he has been chief meteorologist at WAGM-TV since 2006. Email him at tshapiro@wagmtv.com.

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