An equinox to remember

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The spring (aka vernal) equinox of 2024 occurred at 3:06 AM (UTC) on Wednesday March 20th. An equinox is just a moment, not an entire day, and this year it occurred quite early in the day. You may be forgiven for thinking it should have happened a whole day later… on the 21st, but the 20th is actually the normal date for the equinox to occur on. It’s actually so rare for it to occur on the 21st that in some centuries it hasn’t happened at all. Perhaps the reason that the 21st is the commonly celebrated date is because it is the first complete day for which the northern hemisphere is tilted (albeit minutely) towards the sun, rather than away from it. For many people the word ‘equinox’ is not common parlance, and they simply talk about March 21st being ‘the first day of spring’. This makes perfect sense because, even though the equinox nearly always occurs on the 20th, it would be hard to call that day ‘the first day of spring’ when a portion of it (sometimes the majority) still belongs to winter.

There are many years when the equinox is only acknowledged by astronomers and a minority of people with strong natural, religious or cultural connections to it. For a great number of modern people, leading modern lifestyles, if rotten weather happens to coincide with the event, then it is sadly not even mentioned, let alone celebrated. However, in 2024, here in Jersey (and no doubt in most other nearby locations), the weather could not have been more spring-like… soft sunshine, barely a breath of wind and the highest temperatures of the year so far. People simply couldn’t stop talking about it. The celebration might have been more akin to a viral conversation than a deeply symbolic ritual, but the energy and the fervour of this hubbub seemed to somehow unite the people of the Island with the blossoming trees, the singing birds and the hopping bunnies.

Turning now to the numbers… 16.6 °C was the highest temperature we recorded this March 20th (at Jersey’s official climate station, the Maison St Louis Observatory). This certainly wasn’t the warmest March day we’ve had in Jersey (a month that frequently roars in like a winter storm but wafts away like a summer breeze). However, it was an impressive 3.3°C higher than the March average for maximum temperatures in Jersey (according to our most recent 30 years of climatological records). Furthermore, it was precisely 1°C higher than the previous Wednesday, which was its closest rival of 2024. Skies were not cloudless, but rather dappled with the pretty brush strokes of high cirrus and the textured undulations of altocumulus. The pastel blue gaps in between these clouds allowed 8.6 sunshine hours to filter down to the ground, lifting the UV index to a lunchtime climax of 4. That might not be have been enough to cause sunburn (not quite), but it certainly was enough to account for the glow of energy which prevailed across Jersey’s population, on this memorable planetary occasion.

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