Meteorological spring vs. actual spring: What’s the difference?

(WJW) — March 1 is the first day of meteorological spring, but that date is not what most of us would consider the beginning of the spring season.

According to NewsNation’s affiliate WJW Meteorologist Mackenzie Bart, meteorologists group seasons into four groups of three months in order to better track forecasts and keep statistics. But both types of “seasoning” have different functions.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration explains it like so:

  • Meteorological season — Based on temperature. Meteorologists recognize the start of spring as March 1, with the season lasting through May 31. The start/end dates for seasons are the same each year. Seasons are slotted into four groups of three months.
  • Astronomical season — Based on position of the Earth in relation to the sun. The start/end dates for seasons fluctuate. This year, the first day of astronomical spring lands on March 19. Astronomical season is the “calendar seasons” most people (non-meteorologists) go by. When you Google search “first day of spring 2024,” March 19 will come up because this is the calendar most regular people use. Seasons are grouped into two equinoxes (spring and fall) and two solstices (summer and winter). During an equinox, the Earth’s axis is not tilted toward or away from the sun. Meanwhile, a summer solstice means Earth’s tilt is at a maximum toward the sun and a winter solstice means the Earth’s tilt is at a maximum away from it

The chart below was created by the NOAA back in 2022. While these dates are not accurate for spring 2024, they illustrate how meteorological and astronomical seasons are differentiated and even overlap.

This year, on March 19, the sun’s highest point is directly over the equator of the Earth — thus, this is considered the first day of spring.

So although we haven’t quite made it to the official start of spring, a taste of warming temperature and birds chirping outside definitely lets us know it’s coming soon!

WHTM’s James Wesser contributed to this report.


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