In mid-September each year, we greet the fall season with the arrival of the fall equinox (also known as the autumnal equinox). This is the moment when the sun crosses the equator, and those of us living in the Northern Hemisphere will begin to see more darkness than daylight.
No matter what's happening outside your window, weather-wise, this is the start of astronomical fall (different from "meteorological fall," which began on Sept. 1). In 2020, fall officially begins at 9:31 a.m. EDT Tuesday, Sept. 22, 2020.
At this point, the Earth’s tilt is moving away from its maximum lean toward the sun; its rays are aiming directly at the equator.
The autumnal equinox marks the turning point when darkness begins to win out over daylight. Essentially, our hours of daylight — the period of time each day between sunrise and sunset — have been growing slightly shorter each day since the summer solstice in June, which is the longest day of the year (at least in terms of daylight). Then, for the next three months, our hours of daylight continue to grow shorter. At the autumnal equinox, day and night are approximately equal in length. The name ‘equinox’ comes from the Latin word aequus, meaning equal, and nox, meaning night. An equinox occurs twice a year (autumnal and vernal).
Everywhere you look, you can see the visible changes as nature prepares for winter: birds are flying south, temperatures are getting cooler, leaves are changing colors, and animals' coats are thickening, to name a few.
In mid-December, we will experience the winter solstice, which will mark the shortest day of the year in terms of hours of daylight. After the winter solstice, the days will begin to grow longer again. It will take another three months, until the vernal equinox (also called the spring equinox) for the periods of daylight and darkness to reach equilibrium once again.
From the vernal equinox, the days will continue to grow longer, until we reach the summer solstice again, and the whole cycle begins anew!
For more timely tips and trivia about the seasons, be sure to check out the Farmers’ Almanac’s Web site at www.FarmersAlmanac.com.