The start of summer: different meanings for everyone

Weather Blog

Tomorrow is the day we finally turn the corner on Spring and Summer begins. For some summer starts on the day of the solstice, but the start of summer can mean different things for everyone. 

First things first, the official start of summer by astronomical means is known as the June or summer solstice. It’s the day where the Earth is tilted to its maximum towards the sun providing our longest day and the shortest night of the year for the Northern hemisphere. The sun is at its highest in the sky, and we receive the most direct sunlight out of any time of the year. This is the most well known start to summer, but for others the “start” of summer relies more on average temperatures than our orientation to the sun.  

From a meteorological standpoint, the “seasons” heavily depend on annual temperature cycles and are known as meteorological seasons. Meteorological summer began on June 1st starting on the first day of the month containing the solstice, and lasts all the way until August 31st. Meteorological summer consists of all three months (June, July, and August) where temperatures average to be the warmest out of the year. Meteorologists use this system because it’s easier to grab seasonal statistics using a specific set of months that are always consistent. 

Fun Fact: The summer solstice, or start of the season for that matter doesn’t always happen on the same day. Why? It’s because the Earth actually takes a little more than 365 days to orbit the sun – 365.25 days to be exact. This is why we have a leap year, to account for the added day we end up accumulating every four years. The elliptical shape of Earth’s orbit around the sun also causes the length of each season to vary between 89 and 93 days since its orbit is not a perfect circle. Dates of the summer solstice range from June 20-22nd, and this year it falls on the 20th.

For some the start of summer may be Memorial Day, which falls at the end of May (since it’s not uncommon at all to see “summer-like” temperatures begin by the end of that month). This almost matches up with meteorological summer, where the “season” is reliant on temperatures and when it feels the warmest. For farmers the start of the growing season heavily relies on these temperature averages, especially during the summer months that have crucial impacts on the soil.

Speaking of temperatures influencing seasons, have you ever heard of growing degree days? They’re based off of the threshold temperature that certain plants or crops will grow and thrive during the growing season. This goes to show how big a role temperatures play in agriculture, especially where a large part of the economy in the Finger Lakes region relies on this. A few popular crops for this area include a wide array of vegetables, corn, wheat, and apples just to name a few.  

All in all, some consider the start of the new season to be the day of the solstice, while others have less formal ways of celebrating the warmer weather. Some may consider the start of summer to be when their favorite summer crop is ready for harvest, and others even consider it to be summer the first time it hits 80 degrees; the first signs of breaking out the shorts!

So, when do you consider it to be the start of summer?

~Meteorologist Christine Gregory

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