Summer is Over

On September 5, 2010 · 2 Comments

Summer is over on the northern side of the equator but probably not for the reasons you expected. I suppose it’s determined by what one considers "end" and "summer" but I’ve recorded unmistakable signs, not so much upon the physical world but through digital footprints.

There are several candidates that could mark the end of the summer and I will focus on the United States specifically. I will review them briefly but I will note that all of them wrong as I will demonstrate momentarily.

However one defines the end of summer, I hope everyone has an opportunity to enjoy the weather while it’s still nice. We took advantage of the situation by going on a short hike and picnic at Great Falls Park along the Potomac River a few miles west of Washington, DC where the coastal plain meets the rockier Piedmont region.

Great Falls of the Potomac

We had a nice time there as we always do (here’s a description and a brief video from a visit a couple of years ago). It was much less crowded than I expected given the perfect weather but I consider that a bonus. I guess everyone was at the beach.

Labor Day. Many people, particularly those who own automobile dealerships, cling to the silly notion that the Labor Day weekend marks the end of summer. Those of you outside of the U.S. are now thinking, "Labor Day? — I thought that’s why there’s a May Day.". Right. Just like our stubborn refusal to adopt the Metric System and or insistence on calling football soccer, we celebrate the dedication of workers on the first Monday in September. Labor Day has been a Federal holiday since 1884 and the September date was chosen specifically to avoid May Day. Don’t try to understand it. Accept it as fact on move on.

It’s a symbolic ending, and I think it may have something to do with children going back to school immediately following the holiday. For them, certainly summer ended with the passage of the holiday weekend. Many (most?) schools now start a week or even two weeks before Labor Day now so I’m not sure whether the same symbolic association continues to exist as strongly as it once did in previous decades.

Meteorology. Meteorologists often speak of the end of "meteorological summer" which they define as the end of calendar month August. As soon as the clock ticks over to September 1, meteorological summer is done. However, they do concede that it’s a term of convenience rather than the actual end of real summer.

I admit that I like this definition. It’s simple. Flip the calendar page and its not only a new month but and a new season. Also mentally it seems to fit for me too, living in a temperate climate affected by seasonality. I imagine there are people further south that would disagree emphatically that summer ends with August, as they swelter through September and into October.

Astronomical. The United States Naval Observatory says that summer ends north of the equator on September 23, 2010 at 3:09 am Universal Time, with the arrival of the Autumnal Equinox. This is probably the definition that gets the most attention since its based on the predictable tilt of the Earth’s axis with respect to the Sun: the plane of the earth’s equator matches up with the center of the Sun twice a year very exactly. The moments can be calculated outward for many years, marking spring and autumn.

All of these methods are fine for some purposes but they are all wrong. There is a better method for calculating the end of summer: the herd mentality of people. Crowdsourcing is all the rage and I’ve uncovered a perfect example.

The Twelve Mile Circle Method. Summer ended on Saturday, August 21, 2010. I know this because visitors to the Twelve Mile Circle told me and I believe them. It wasn’t verbalized, rather it was their collective actions that signaled a turning point between the seasons. Most of the visitors to this site don’t read the blog. They use search engines to pop onto one of the permanent travel pages, particularly the ferry pages. It’s not uncommon for a single one of the ferry pages to generate more traffic than all of the blog pages combined during the summer.

There are short-term and long-term traffic patterns. A weekly cycle defines the most visible short-term pattern. Traffic is almost always highest on Monday, then it slides slowly downward throughout the week until it bottoms-out on Saturday. On Sunday it starts to climb again and on Monday the pattern begins anew. I don’t know why. My theory is that people use my pages as they research weekend getaways, probably from their bleak office cubicles when they should be working. They don’t hit the page on Saturday because they’re on the trip they planned earlier in the week.

An annual cycle defines the best long-term pattern. Traffic peaks during the summer then it slides slowly until Christmas and New Years, then climbs gradually until spring when it picks up steam quickly and goes nuts into the summer. This year it peaked on August 21 and it has been trending downward for the last couple of weeks. I’d need to create some wintertime content, maybe some skiing pages or something, or focus more topics on the Southern Hemisphere if I wanted to smooth that out a bit.

You, the people who actually read the blog, are part of the privileged class. You don’t demonstrate a seasonal pattern. You’re like the permanent residents of a beach town. The tourists leave, the midway shuts down, the saltwater taffy stand and ice cream parlor fall silent. We’ve got the Twelve Mile Circle all to ourselves now. Let’s enjoy the peace and quite for the next few months until the masses return next spring.


On September 5, 2010 · 2 Comments

2 Responses to “Summer is Over”

  1. Bill Cary says:

    Gosh, in these intimate settings in the TMC I had not even noticed the crowds. I used to live in Ft Lauderdale and I never really paid attention to the snowbirds as the beaches were always crowded, the stores full, and the traffic on Federal Highway never let up. Your blog is similar in that I’m here to read it all and I’m not noticing what you see as “snowbirds”. They are off my event horizon.

    I share your interest in maps, geo-oddities, and the history of border notches and anomalies. I suppose you may consider me to be one of your permanent residents: living on the beach, not swimming in the tourist ponds, and not eating the taffy.

  2. I wonder whether the USNO takes account of the difference between the true center of the Sun and the barycenter (center of gravity) of the Solar System, which is the true focus of our orbit and is often outside the sun (depending on the positions of the giant planets).

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