WHAT IS IT TO MOST OF US?
The vernal equinox is the precise moment when spring begins. It arrived at 6:02 a.m. (CDT) on March 20, the Old Farmer’s Almanac says.
The time jumps around from year to year.
In Latin: “Equinox” is derived from Latin, meaning “equal night.”
Which leads to a more technical answer: The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration on its website explains that in spring and autumn, the axis of the Earth points 90 degrees away from the Sun. This means that on this date, day and night have about the same length: 12 hours each, more or less.
Here are vernal equinox arrival times from the U.S. Naval Observatory
(Local time on March 20, unless otherwise noted.)
2000: 1:35 a.m.
2001: 7:31 a.m.
2002: 1:16 p.m.
2003: 7 p.m.
2004: 12:49 a.m.
2005: 6:34 a.m.
2006: 11:26 a.m.
2007: 7:07 p.m.
2008: 12:48 a.m.
2009: 6:44 a.m.
2010: 12:32 p.m.
2012: March 19 -- 11:21 p.m.
2013: 6:02 a.m.
DOES ANYTHING HAPPEN?
Well, not necessarily. Bird migrations, blooming of flowers, things like that depend on the weather, and here it’s usually still too cool for much to happen.
Augustana College professor of biology Bohdan Dziadyk said that in some years of the last decade early spring has been getting warmer and some plants such as bloodroots and spring beauties have flowered a week or so earlier than usual.
He has heard bull frog call in Dixon, Ill., in March while the ponds were still covered with ice.
EQUINOX HIGH TEMPS
High temperatures for the vernal equinox days.
MAYBE WE SHOULD HIDE THE SNOWMEN
March 20 is Snowman Burning Day in the U.S., according to some calendar websites and Lake Superior State in Superior, Wis., where students at the university light a paper snowman on fire to mark the first day of spring.
That tradition was inspired by a celebration in Germany that culminates with the burning of a snowman effigy.
It’s not an abnormality in Europe.
At the Sechseläuten festival in Zurich, Switzerland, an effigy called the böögg is stuffed with firecrackers, put on a woodpile and lit up at 6 p.m. When the böögg’s head explodes, winter is over. The faster this happens, the longer and hotter summer will be, according to swissworld.org.
Checking in with the German American Heritage Center in Davenport, the custom doesn’t seem to have ever taken root here.
“We are not familiar with the snowman burning, but it is an ancient rite of spring in Germany to prepare large straw wheels, set them afire and roll them down hillsides as a sign that winter is over,” said Janet Brown-Lowe.
Still, maybe that’s too warm for you. There are alternatives.
“Also, many small towns in Germany which still have a fountain or well from olden times decorate it with hundreds of colorful eggs as an annual tradition,” she said. “The projects are usually very elaborate.”
STORM SEASON WARMS UP
Iowa: On average, 51 tornadoes strike Iowa each year, with two showing up in March, according to a National Climatic Data Center figures from 1991 to 2010.While last year there were no March tornadoes, in 2011 there were eight. A March 22 tornado tore through southwest, south central Iowa.
Illinois: The state averages 54 annually and three in March, although no March twisters have hit this area in years.
DO YOU SEEK EGG BALANCE?
Maybe you’d like to try your hand at egg balancing.
The belief still exists that you can stand a raw egg on end during the vernal equinox, obviously a special day of balance. Internet videos and photos abound both proving and disproving this. With patience, apparently, you can do it any time of the year.
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In an article on the NASA Night Sky Network website, Suzy Gurton, Education Manager at the Astronomical Society of the Pacific said: "If you can do it on the equinox, you can do it any day of the year. Personally, I can't make it happen unless the egg is hard boiled and I smash it to the counter. The broken egg bottom will keep the egg standing.”
ZEN OF MARCH MADDNESS
With the help of the Kansas Jayhawks, the balance of the equinox has been on display for Iowa and Illinois teams in recent years in world’s most famous basketball tournament.
Good date to be a UNI Panther: March 20, 2010, No. 9 University of Northern Iowa upsets No. 1 Kansas, 69-67 to reach the Sweet Sixteen of the NCAA Tournament.
Not so good for Illini: March 20, 2011, Illinois falls to Kansas 59-73 in the field of 32 of the NCAA Tournament.
SO, MAYBE THE EQUINOX IS NOT YOUR SPRING THING
Here are some countdowns to other big days ahead:
2 days until the end of spring break for Davenport public schools.
3 days until the National Corn Dog Day. See corndogday.com.
5 days until the beginning of spring break for Bettendorf and Moline-Coal Valley and the end for Rock Island-Milan schools.
7 days until the first full moon, a good day to go bass fishing on the Mississippi.
30 days until the best time to plant corn in Iowa (between April 20 to May 10), according to Iowa State University Extensionne more thought
UM .. ABOUT THAT WHOLE FERTILITY THING
Spring is the time for rebirth. Heck, in the movie, “Bambi,” that’s when all the baby animals were born.
Humans through the ages kind of associated spring more with the other end of that process. An ancient Germanic festival of Ostara is one.
“Pagans celebrate Ostara with various rituals celebrating fertility, nature and new growth,” ReligionFacts.com states. “Egg races, egg hunts, egg eating and egg painting are common activities. A man and a woman might be chosen to act out the roles of spring god and goddess, playing out courtship and symbolically planting seeds.”
Here are some birth totals for the area nine months after the equinox:
RI County December births
2010: 211 (Year’s biggest total)
Scott County December births
Sources: Rock Island County and the state of Iowa.