Thursday, September 20, 2007

Equinoctical Storms

This coming Sunday is the Autumnal Equinox in the northern hemisphere at 9:51 UT which translates to 5:51 AM locally (MDT). It is the beginning of astromonical autumn. Meteorological autumn began on September 1.

Very often, during the time around the equinox, as the jet stream becomes unstable and begins moving south, storms come across the west coast from the Pacific ocean. We are getting just such a pattern as the equinox approaches this year. Last night we awoke at around 3 AM to lightning, thunder, and a brief period of pouring rain. We had to run around the house closing windows. By the time we got the windows closed, it had stopped raining!

This morning, as the sun was rising, we had the most spectacular rainbows. Here is one that arched across the sky in the west. I could not get the whole rainbow in the picture, but when I went out into the front, I did get the picture of the other limb of the arc over our house.

The autumnal equinox gives me a bittersweet feeling each year. We have been noticing the days getting shorter now, since the cross-quarter day in August, and as we draw near to the equinox, the shortening of daylight is noticible from day to day!

It is dark when we get up in the morning, now, and the sun is setting just before 7 PM here. Our cottonwoods in Albuquerque and the Aspen up here are beginning to turn, and the nights are getting cooler. The shadows are shortening, as the sun's resting place in the evening moves further and further south. Although I love fall, I feel the dark time of winter close on it's heels.

In the old calendar, the Autumnal Equinox was celebrated as Mabon, a time to celebrate the harvest. It is also known to farming peoples under various names as the time of Harvest Home. Christianity renamed Mabon as Michaelmas--the feast of the archangel Michael. Michaelmas marks the beginning of the fall term in school in parts of Europe.

In the Jewish calendar, there is no exact cognate of the equinox, because it is a lunar calendar, intercalated to keep up with seasons. The closest holiday that marks the autumn harvest is the festival of Sukkot, which comes at the full moon nearest the autumnal equinox and is a celebration of the Ingathering Harvest. This Year, Sukkot starts next Wednesday evening at sunset, which is pretty close. I will be writing about Sukkot extensively during the festival.

Today it rained off and on all day here at the house, and we got quite a good downpour this evening, when I arrived home.

But the sky was clearing at sunset, although the stormy clouds were still overhead. It was a lovely sunset. Everyone's mood is subdued tonight. New Mexicans are easily influenced by a full day of clouds and rain. We are not used to frontal weather like that, and everyone gets a rainy-day feeling akin to seasonal affect disorder.

Fall is definitely strengthening and winter cannot be far behind.

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