Spring is coming earlier in US than it has since 1896


By Lauren Fox, AccuWeather staff writer
Astronomy Updated feb. 26, 2020 10:48 AM

This geostationary operational environmental satellite image (GOES) East image was captured on March 20, 2019, at 8 a.m. ET prior to the equinox. (Photo courtesy NOAA National Environmental Satellite, Data, and Information Service (NESDIS))

Those hoping for an early spring this year will get their wish.

The vernal equinox will take place on March 19 throughout the entire United States including Alaska and Hawaii, almost 18 hours ahead of when the vernal equinox occurred in 2019. Moreover, the 2020 equinox will have arrived earlier than any other equinox in the last 124 years.

The vernal equinox falling on March 19 is a phenomenon that has not occurred in the U.S. since 1896, according to Geoff Chester, the public affairs officer for the U.S. Naval Observatory. This is the same year Utah became the 45th state and automobiles became available to the public.

The U.S. Naval Observatory oversees the so-called Master Clock, a system that keeps precise time for a host of clocks around the world used in GPS devices, cellphones and computers, among other things.

Each year, the equinox is expected to take place either on March 20 or 21, but in 2020, the entire U.S. will experience the equinox on March 19.

This shift in timing comes from the uneven amount of days fitting into a calendar year. Each rotation of Earth takes 23 hours, 56 minutes and 4.1 seconds, and doesn't fit exactly into a 24-hour day.

The reason the 2020 equinox is particularly noteworthy is that it will be the first equinox since the one in 1896 to arrive early enough that it ends up occurring on March 19 throughout all U.S. time zones, Bob Berman, an astronomer at Slooh, told AccuWeather.

During 2016, the most recent leap year, the equinox occurred on March 19 for Pacific and Central time zones, but not in the Eastern time zone where it fell on March 20.

This year, the equinox will occur at 11:50 p.m. Eastern time on March 19, Chester explained, adding that the equinox will occur an hour earlier in each time zone going from east to west.

In the Central time zone, the equinox will occur at 10:50 p.m. and spring will officially arrive at 9:50 p.m. and 8:50 p.m. in the Mountain and Pacific time zones, respectively.

He said that in universal time, the equinox this year will take place at 3:50 UTC on March 20, while in 1896 it occurred at 2:23 UTC, meaning that the 2020 equinox will not break the record.

In 2028, however, the equinox will occur at 2:18 UTC, beating the 1896 record. The next record to beat will be 15:04 UTC on March 19, which happened way back in 1696 and was the earliest equinox of the 17th century. The year 1600 was also a leap year.

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