Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Monday Phenology: December 19, 2011

Posted by Kirk

We're getting pretty close to the solstice and the numbers sure show it. Sunrise today was at 7:47 AM and sunset at 4:33 PM. That's 8 hours, 46 minutes and 12 seconds of sun. Today's daylight was only 14 seconds shorter than yesterday. There's actually something really interesting hidden in those numbers. The solstice is the coming Wednesday but most people don't realize the solstice is neither the day of the latest sunrise nor the day of the earliest sunset. It is simply the shortest day. The sun set has actually already started to get later in the day. As of today, the sun is setting one full minute later than it did just a few days ago. The sun rises will continue to get later for a little over a week or so and then they too will reverse course.

Your week in review:

Last Monday I mentioned that in the week ahead people should listen for Black-capped Chickadees practicing their spring "Hey Sweetie" song. Listerner/reader Marcie dropped me a note in the comments saying she had indeed heard heard them singing down near Lake Pepin on Monday. How cool is that? Not even to the solstice yet and we have our first sign of spring. On Twitter, Rebecca sent me a message that she had heard them as well. She's over in North-eastern Wisconsin.

Wednesday on the drive home I noticed the first ice house on an area lake. I'm told it was there earlier in the week and I just missed it. It probably put up on the weekend. Wednesday it rained all day so I imagine that cemented the ice house in real well. Should be fun to get out at the end of the winter. The weather was just bizarre Wednesday. It was foggy and misty rain that just would not let up or go away. I went out to dinner that night and didn't bring a winter jacket of any kind. I just wore just a sweatshirt. How may years can I do that in the middle of December?

Thursday morning we had a very light coating of snow but nothing the sun couldn't take care of. It all seemed to be pretty much gone by the end of the day. On the drive to work I saw one lone swan flying south. Then, closer to work, I also saw a pair of swans flying. I wondered what was making them move around that morning? Was it a coincidence I saw them? There can't be that much open water around for them except on rivers. During the day there were just a few flakes but mostly it just got colder and windy by the end of the day. There were some very brief peeks at a blue sky.

Friday there were also some brilliant peeks at blue skies and sun. It was incredibly unseasonably nice out but that was just a preview of Saturday and Sunday. 

Saturday was a beautiful day weather wise and that night I taught an astronomy program. The skies were clear and gorgeous. I haven't seen such clear nice skies for astronomy in a long time. Jupiter was out and we got a nice look at the cloud bands as well as the four largest moons. For an extra treat I turned the scope on the Andromeda Galaxy. At 2.5 million light years away it is the furthest object you can see with the naked eye. If you look closely in the right spot in a dark location you can just make it out even without magnification. Pretty incredible to think about how far away it is.

Sunday was insane weather wise. It was in the 40s in the twin cities but out in Montevideo they hit 61°. That's just crazy. I don't have high hopes for my snowshoe program scheduled for next week.

The week ahead:
Sun lovers rejoyce! For the last six months I've been telling you how many minutes of sunlight we've been losing. Fear not. The upward trend begins on Wednesday which is the solstice. From mid-week on we'll be seeing more and more sunlight each day. The longer we go without snow on the ground the harder it will be for winter to really take hold as well. As sunlight increases so does our heating during the day. Last winter seemed like it would never end. At least so far it looks like we could be in for a pretty short winter.


Magpie said...

Your chickadee report reminds me of one of my favorite poems for the solstice:

Winter Solstice

I heard a bird sing
In the dark of December
A magical thing
And sweet to remember.

'We are nearer to Spring
Than we were in September,'
I heard a bird sing
In the dark of December.
- Oliver Herford, I Heard a Bird Sing

Kirk said...

Nice. Thanks for sharing.

CheddarMelt said...

I would LOVE to subscribe to this podcast, but I can't find the RSS anywhere!

What is the RSS feed URL? Thanks.

Kirk said...

Hello Jennifer. The podcast feed is http://tcnaturalist.podbean.com/feed

If you are using iTunes you can also just search for the word phenology in the podcast section of the store.