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Spring already has sprung

Most of us can't wait for spring -- and, according to the calendar, astronomy and a number of biological indicators, we don't have to wait as long as we once did.

Older folks might remember learning that the first day of spring -- the vernal equinox -- is March 21.

But the calendar puts the first day of spring in Buffalo this year on March 20, as it has been for every year so far this century, and as it will be for the foreseeable future.

And by another definition, spring is already here.

The word equinox means "equal night," and, in the spring, it signifies the first day of the year when the amount of day time is equal to or greater than the amount of night time.

That is today which will have 12 hours and three minutes of daylight.

Friday's daylight total was 11 hours and 59 minutes.

Why the difference between the date listed on the calendar and the date when time of light exceeds the time of darkness?

It's a bit of illusion, according to astronomers.

When the sun appears to rise over the horizon, it is still actual
ly below the horizon, local astronomy teacher Roland Rudd explained.

"The sun's light is refracted through the lower part of the atmosphere," he explained. "It bends the light of the sun so that, technically, when we see the whole ball of the sun above the horizon, really the whole ball is below the horizon."

The refraction makes the day seem longer than it actually is, said Joe Rao, who writes a weekly astronomy column for the New York Times.

If you believe the folks at Clean Air-Cool Planet, an environmental group concerned with global warming, spring -- or what they call biological spring -- arrived last Monday, because a number of physical changes that signal spring now come seven days earlier, on average, than they did at various times in the past.

The group bases its claim on a climatological analysis of records for a number of those indicators at a number of sites in the northeastern United States.

Spokesman Bill Burtis called it the "time when Mother Nature, essentially, is putting forth the signs we associate with spring."

That analysis shows:

* Bloom dates for genetically identical lilacs occur about four days earlier than they did 50 years ago; dates for apples and grapes come about eight days earlier.

* The dates of high water flow and "ice-out" on selected New England rivers also occur, on average, a week to two weeks earlier than they did in 1936.


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