NatureScience & Nature

Spring has Sprung… But how do I know?

It’s finally Spring here, and you know what that means. Right? Hmm, come to think of it what exactly does it mean to say it’s Spring? Is it solely based on the calendar? The temperature? Is it only Spring once college students go on break?

There are actually a whole lot of definitions for what makes Spring “Spring”, some of them are technical and others cultural. With that in mind I thought it would be nice to take a little time and look at a couple of these reasons for the season.

First let’s actually look at why we have seasons at all. I mean what is a season? What point is there to the word “Spring” if is just arbitrarily used? Rest easy, there is a point, seasons do exist, we aren’t living on a flat and stationary Earth.

Seasons are periods of the year that are marked by a general difference in temperature, weather types, daylight amounts, and varying ecological events. And the root cause is how the Earth sits and spins as it flies around the sun. I know this is probably common knowledge to most people here, but just be be fair I thought it important.

The Earth orbits the sun once a year; but that doesn’t give us seasons (Although, with enough orbital eccentricity it could.), it just gives us the year length. And it spins as it orbits; but that doesn’t give us seasons, it just gives us the length of a day. The reason we have Spring, Summer, Fall, and Winter lies with how we lay.

The Earth has an axial tilt. If you were to look at the Earth as it spins and revolves around the Sun you would notice it spins like a top that’s a little off center. That means the North Pole (top) and South Pole (bottom) aren’t directly “up” and “down”, they are at an angle, a 23.5 degree angle to be precise. So, as the Earth goes around the Sun, this axial tilt gives the earth a wobble, exposing different sections of the Earth to different amounts and intensities of face-time with our solar energy source. That the chief cause of our Earthly concept of seasons.

So yeah, that’s the seasons as a whole, what about Spring? Spring is the temperate season that follows Winter and precedes Summer. It is generally marked by an increase in average temperature and day length. Due to this it is the season associated with blooming plants and an uptick in animal activity, as well as an increase in unstable weather.

So when is spring?

First off we have to get rid of the calendar. I mean it is Spring here in the middle U.S. but in Melbourne? Not so much. Because of that axial tilt that we spoke of earlier, when the Northern Hemisphere is in Spring, the Southern is in Fall, and visa-versa. And even if you stay in Hemisphere, the calendar dates can vary by country… or even in Country. In the United States Spring can be considered to start on the day after President’s day, which is not even a set date, but instead the Tuesday after the third Monday in February. (Confusing, huh?) Or it can be considered as starting between March 19-22 because of the Vernal Equinox. China uses this Equinox as Spring’s mid-point, meaning Spring runs from early February to early May. No help at all.

Meteorologically speaking, temperature demarks the seasons. Meteorologists take the average monthly temperatures and denote the three coldest as winter, and the three hottest as summer with the seasons between as Spring and Fall respectively. That means that Spring and season can and will change with Climate phenomena and changes.

So what about those increasing temperatures that Spring should bring? As I write this in Kansas, my neighboring state to the west, Colorado, is expecting 4 inches up to 2 feet of snow. I guess if nothing else that variation demonstrates the unstable weather patterns I mentioned.

Personally, I like to hold with what nature is doing. And honestly, the sign I like the most might not be the one that springs (get it?) to mind first.

Springtime Flowers
Springtime Flowers

Ecologically spring can be noted by the blossoming of a range of native plants and an increase in the activity of animals. Or, what I like, when the soil temperatures get warm enough for micro flora to grow again. This is a good sign to me, because we can have temperatures in my neck of the woods vary by 40 degrees in a single day. So some animals and plants can basically get tricked by a series of warm days, only to get shocked by a sudden freeze. The soil though, it acts as an insulator, so it holds that winter cold a little bit longer and thus the flora there need a little more steady warmth and a little more time to start the season off. And you don’t need a microscope to know when this has happened, you just need to go outside and breath in. You know, what I’m talking about. That indescribable “Smell of Spring.” That’s my favorite sign that Spring has started…. Well that and morels, but I’ll get to them later.

Chris T.

Chris is a microbiologist with a passion for nature. He has a degree in Natural History and spends his time taking pictures of mushrooms, riding his bike, painting, and watching tv.

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