Writer’s Block: Fall Equinox

Port Isabel-South Padre Press

I saw a meme on Facebook recently. It said it’s fall in Texas and asked the reader if they knew what that meant. It then answered the question by saying “Absolutely nothing! It’s still 90 degrees out!”

Boy, is that ever true. The forecast for the rest of the week does indeed include a lot of 90 degree temperatures, yet fall begins Friday. The autumnal equinox begins at 3:02 p.m. Friday, to be precise. At least, if my Google sleuthing skills are correct.

So what is the autumnal equinox, anyway? Well, aside from the marking the first day of fall, it also marks the point on the calendar where the nights start becoming longer than the days. Sure, we’ve all noticed the sun has been setting earlier and earlier every day, but it’s not until after the equinox that our portion of the world, and indeed the entire Northern Hemisphere, experiences more hours of darkness than sunshine.

Our daytimes will continue to dwindle until we reach the winter solstice in late December. It’s the day when there are the fewest hours of visible daylight. And thanks to the Earth’s tilt as it rotates on its axis, the farther north you go, the less daylight you have during the fall and the winter. In fact, if you lived at the North Pole, you would experience a constant state of nighttime beginning a week or two before Thanksgiving, and ending several weeks after everyone has already sung Auld Lang Syne. It’s called Polar Night, when the Earth’s tilt puts the sun far below the Arctic horizon and plunges the entire region first into a weeks’ long twilight before night envelops the area for six weeks every winter.

But that’s way up in the great frozen north. We’re way down here at the tip of Texas. We’re much closer to the equator than Santa and his elves. For us, the sun will set at 5:44 p.m. on the shortest day of the year. With sunrise scheduled for 7:13 a.m. Dec. 21 — the winter solstice — we’ll be able to bask in a luxurious 10 and a half hours of daylight.

Hopefully by then we’ll also be able to dig our favorite sweaters, boots and scarves from the deeper recesses of our closets and put them to use a few times before having to don short sleeves and flip-flops once again.

In the meantime, we have the equinox. We have pumpkin spice lattes and the warm smells of cinnamon to look forward to.

Another cool thing about the equinox? It’s during the fall and spring equinoxes when the sun will rise and set precisely due east and due west, respectively. For cities like Chicago, which have their streets laid out on a grid that almost perfectly lines up with the cardinal directions (north, south, east and west), you can capture great photos of the sun setting or rising above the streets with buildings lined up neatly on either side. Astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson dubbed the day when the sun lines up with the New York City grid system as Manhattanhenge.

We don’t have a lot of high rises around here that line long, metropolitan boulevards but that doesn’t mean there aren’t a places where a “Texashenge” can’t be seen. There’s moments every year, for instance, when the setting sun lines up perfectly over Highway 100 between Port Isabel and Laguna Vista.

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