Spring is here! Even though there is still snow in Bear Lake and there are no flowers or greenery in sight, the geese have arrived and robins are chirping and sandhill cranes have been seen. Spring began last Friday, and those who were hoping for an early spring definitely got their wish!
Spring, or the vernal equinox, happened March 19 throughout the entire U.S., including Alaska and Hawaii, almost 18 hours ahead of when it occurred in 2019. Even more importantly, the 2020 equinox arrived earlier than any other equinox in the last 124 years.
The vernal equinox falling on March 19 is a phenomenon that hasn’t occurred in the U.S. since 1896. The reason the 2020 equinox is noteworthy is that it will be the first equinox since the one in 1896 to arrive early enough that it ends up happening on March 19 throughout all U.S. time zones.
This year, the equinox occurred at 11:50 p.m. Eastern time. An hour earlier in each time zone going from east to west. In the Central time zone, the equinox occurred at 10:50 p.m., and spring officially arrived at 9:50 p.m. and 8:50 p.m. in the Mountain and Pacific time zones, respectively.
The Gregorian calendar, created by Pope Gregory in 1583, takes into account the extra 56 minutes and 4.1 seconds by including an extra day in February every four years as a leap year. But, an extra day every four years is an over-correction to the calendar, and Pope Gregory accounted for this. For every century year, the calendar resets by skipping leap year. Every 400 years, it does not reset and keeps the leap year. The year 2000 was a year that did not reset; therefore, it had an extra day.
The skipped leap year will cause the rest of the 21st century to have earlier leap year equinoxes. Each leap year for the rest of the century will arrive 43 minutes earlier than the leap year before.
We are going to keep saying, “This is the earliest equinox of our lives” now every four years because we’re going to keep having earliest-ever starts of spring.
In the years 300-400 A.D., the equinoxes fell on March 21, but because of the Julian calendar used at the time, which did not have the same 400-year system as the Gregorian calendar, the vernal equinox continued to occur earlier each year until it ended up landing on March 15 by the year 1000. If Pope Gregory had not replaced the calendar when he did, the calendar would be about 20 days off at this point. It would have affected not only the equinoxes but also seasons as a whole and holidays like Christmas.
If we had stayed on the old Julian calendar, there would have been a discrepancy of one day every 128 years. With the Gregorian system, we have a discrepancy of one day in about 3,500 years.
In the year 2100, the leap year will be skipped, resetting the calendar and pushing the equinox back to March 21. After this century, there will not be another equinox on March 19 until the year 2436.
It’s nothing to worry about, but it is producing the earliest equinox of our lives, or the earliest spring of any of our lives. Unless there is someone out there older than 124 years old.
So, Happy Spring! Enjoy the melting snow and the mud. Hopefully there will be a flower or two poking their way up through it all soon, or a tree blooming above us. We need some new growth and something fresh at this particular time. Spring means new beginnings!