The Science of February

There are several things that I really like about the month of February and they do not have anything at all to do with Valentine’s Day!

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First, it is a short month. Even with leap year this year, it is still much shorter than January. This means fewer days of anticipated cold, snow, and general blusteriness. And, once in a while, such as this year, we get a much-needed reprieve from the traditional mid-western winter and experience a day with temperatures in the high forties. This simple occurrence reminds one that Spring might truly be around the corner. It can even start to smell like it!

But, as short as the month is, the days are getting longer. And, this is another reason to like February! Yes, the days have been getting longer for over a month now, with Winter Solstice being in mid- December, but in February, the light starts to peek over the horizon earlier and earlier. Days no longer darken at 4:30 in the afternoon. This is a definite advantage when the mid-week walking date I have with a friend ceases to become dangerous!  According to a 2019 article in the Dallas Chronical newspaper, last February brought about an increase in total daylight of 88 minutes (one hour and twenty-two minutes) for us in the Northern Hemisphere. We can expect something very similar this year.

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To look at it a little differently, we can compare the amount of expected daylight to increase from the Winter Solstice last December to a period reached later this month – eight weeks later – on February 21, 2020.  Using tables on the Time and Date website, we can figure out exactly how much more sunlight we will have on February 21st as opposed to December 21st (winter solstice). This website’s data tells us that daylength on 2/21/2020 is expected to be 10 hours, 48 minutes, and 55 seconds.  The same data table for December 2019 tells us that the total day length for 12/21/2019 was nine hours, three minutes and, fifty-four seconds.  If I’ve done my math correctly, we will be experiencing approximately an hour and forty-five minutes of more daylight by February 21st, 2020.

As a person, gardener, and educator I know that this lengthening photoperiod (or the amount of daylight experienced in 24 hours) is extremely important from a phenology standpoint. We are not the only species to take note of the lengthening daylight. With more daylight comes warmer temperatures, with warming temperatures, signs of spring start to occur. It is a very fascinating cyclic occurrence! For some student lessons using photoperiod, check the Journey North website. I successfully used these with my garden club students in the past.

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Another, and third, reason I like February is the beautiful sunrises that seem to occur behind our house this month. The fact that these gorgeous sky paintings in hues of pink, orange, blue, yellow, and red usually happen during this month has not escaped me.  For years, I have flung open our sliding glass door off our kitchen that faces East to capture a photograph of this early morning artwork painted on the sky.  This vision never fails to inspire awe and appreciation from me for our natural world. I am not sure what causes this month to provide the most beautiful of sunrises but it is not for me to question, anyway. I only see my job as one of appreciation for the chance to witness it.

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I know that some people like February because of Valentine’s Day or because they have a week off from school, or take a mid-winter vacation. But, me? I kind of like February for more scientific reasons!

 

One thought

  1. I do like February because of the vacation week, and I like Valentine’s Day (I love sending cards to my children and grandchildren and niece!), but I agree with you that the hope that comes along with the increasing number of minutes that are light out is really the best part of this short winter month.

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