Summer Solstice Story
At 6:51 a.m. eastern daylight saving time on June 21st, summer officially begins in the northern hemisphere! This is the moment of Summer Solstice, when the sun is shining directly down on the Tropic of Cancer, the latitudinal line north of the equator facing the sun during the summer due to the 23.5 degree tilt of the Earth. The day of Summer Solstice is the longest day of the year, the sun does not actually set until around 8:30 p.m. on the east coast. Even though the days will get shorter from here on in, it will still be a lot more sunshine than we are used to and it is much-needed and much appreciated.
Where is the Warmth?
Why is the first day of summer not necessarily the warmest? Why do the dog days of summer not arrive until later in the season? Well it may take some regions longer to warm because it literally takes the earth longer to absorb the sun’s rays and warm up. Winter solstice is similar in this way; the first day of winter is not the coldest or snowiest. This phenomenon, sometimes called the “seasonal temperature lag” is caused by the lands and waters taking their time to release heat they have absorbed back into the atmosphere. In this way it seems that solstices do not mark the beginning of the season as much as the midpoint.
Many people and cultures actually celebrate the solstice; Pagans have bonfires and feasts, Christians hold the festival of St. John the Baptist, thousands flock to Stonehenge to see the sun rise over the 4,000 year old solar monument and many more cook out in the yard, go camping and hit the beach.
Everyone benefits from extended hours of sun and higher temperatures, as long as there is sufficient rainfall to balance out the seasonal changes. There is a reason summer is the growing season for plants, more sunlight gives them the ability to efficiently perform photosynthesis and warmer temperatures allow for faster translocation of water and nutrients. Wildlife has an easier time foraging in sunny weather due to higher food availability and longer hours of light that provide additional protection from predators, vegetation in full leaf out also acts as cover and habitat. And we humans seem to love the long, sunshine-filled days; mental attitudes improve, vitamin D levels soar and skin browns. The extra hours of sunshine gifted to us by summer allow us to indulge in our favorite outdoor activities, and motivated by the ephemeral seasonality, we actually get out there and do them after work, on weekends or on vacation. Enjoy it while it lasts, although the days appear to last forever, summer will eventually end, so get out there and barbecue, go camping, hike with your family and dogs, plant and care for your garden or just appreciate the beauty for what it is, gorgeous and nostalgia-filled, but short-lived.