Spring will be Sprung at 8:49 PM PDT today, 19MAR20
If you’re surprised that spring equinox is not falling on the 20th or 21st, it’s for good reason. You have to go back to 1896 to get such an early equinox. Even if you are not surprised, do you know why?
The Calendar System is to blame.
If you were even alive in the 1960’s or 1970’s, say, you remember how spring reliably began every March 21. So what’s going on?
This earlier-than-usual spring has everything to do with time, which is something we humans do perfectly. Atomic clocks divide each second into 9,192,631,770 parts, and the super-accurate time is then transmitted to anyone with an “atomic wall clock” or GPS or even a smart phone.
The calendar is “nearly as perfect.” Or not. Even before this earliest-ever-spring, this year offered us a February 29—the rarest birthday—with consequences that affect everyone.
Want to be the only one in your state-of-mind who truly understands?
It’s easy if you first rewind to the year 2000. That February, for the first time in four centuries (400 years), there was a February 29 on a century year.
Well, this is how our calendar works. Years divisible by four are leap years, like this one, 2020. But if a year is divisible by 100, it SKIPS a leap year, so in 1700, 1800, and 1900 there was no February 29.
Our calendar system further decrees that while most century years skip February 29, if the year is divisible by 400, it will be a leap year anyway. So 2000 was a leap year. The consequences of that little move are what’s affecting us now. You’ve waited twenty years for this moment even if you weren’t aware of it.
So…Why is Spring Early?
You see, equinox and solstices happen earlier and earlier as each century wears on.
That date resonated because each summer and winter also began on the 21st of the month. As every century wears on, the date slips earlier to the 20th and possibly even to the 19th of March, but this slippage gets halted and rectified by the omission of a leap day during the next century year, like in 1700, 1800 and 1900. That creates a sudden “jump” of one day, with the first day of summer, spring, and winter pushed to the 21st again, and all seems right with the world.
Well, that’s even more complicated than figuring out which day it is. It involves how leap years, leap centuries, the Gregorian calendar and the speed of the Earth’s rotation don’t precisely align and how and when we make periodic adjustments to sync things up as much as possible.
The bottom line is get used to more 19ths! Every coming leap year (2024, 2028, etc.) will give us a new “earliest” spring equinox. Later in this century, Europe, Africa and parts of Asia will eventually see spring equinoxes on March 19.But for 2021, it will revert to the more usual March 20 — and we hope a return to the gathering of crowds to marvel at the majesty of the timeless rhythms of nature.