The Timing of Summer

Here in Britain we tend to recognize summer on the basis of astronomy. June 21st is the longest day of the year, so it must be mid-summer’s day. That means summer is half over already, and a pretty rotten summer it has been.

Americans, on the other hand, at least those I have talked to about such things, use a different system. When Kevin emailed me yesterday he talked about it being the “first day of summer”. Astronomically this is a bit daft, but practically it does make a bit of sense. The weather here in May can be pretty dodgy, but the weather in August is often very good and early September can be quite lovely. Counting “summer” as being mid-June to mid-September therefore makes quite a bit of sense.

What times do people in non-English-speaking countries count as “summer”? Is there an historical reason for the UK/US divergence?

Regardless, it is a gorgeous day here, and I’m getting some where out of my summer dresses at long last. Wimbledon has started. England are playing Australia at cricket. Stupid time for me to be so busy.

26 thoughts on “The Timing of Summer

      1. Yes, it’s all her fault!

        As far as I can tell from a quickie-wiki, the pagan seasons seem to be the earliest, with spring starting in early February at Imbolc, and continuing till Beltane. That’d imply that the traditional Britons considered midsummer day to be in the middle of the summer.

        1. The Celts and various other pagans put the season boundaries at the “quarter-days”, midway between the solstices and equinoxes. Those were marked by Imbolg, Beltane, Lughnasa, and Samhain (and similar festivals under lots of other names).

  1. I find the whole 21st being the first day of summer rather baffling. If you want to go on the basis of what the weather is actually doing, it’s been summer here for quite a while.

    In terms of insolation, it is of course mid summer. However, there is a seasonal lag between input and actual state, and it takes a while to achieve a balance between the amount of sun and the actual temperature. Of course this occurs some time after the point 6 weeks before yesterday (so not on about the 7th of May).

    Equally obviously, it occurs some time before the input starts declining. So not on the 21st of June either.

    The standard meteorological definition of summer is the one I prefer – the three warmest months. Here, that’s June, July and August. It relies on the slightly arbitrary alignment of the months, but it’s both simpler than remembering a particular date, and closer to the truth than the common USian assertion that summer starts on Midsummer Day.

    (All of this ignores those parts of the world with other numbers of seasons.)

    1. Doing a little bit of research, I note that the three warmest months in San Francisco are actually August, September and October.

      Which puts their summer two months later than ours.

        1. Less cold?

          (i.e. about the same temperature as we get in Cambridge, but delayed a couple on months.)

          They’ll get brighter sun, of course, but not such long evenings.

          1. Them’s fightin’ words, m’boy. Describing San Francisco as being in “Southern California” is an insult on a par with describing Glasgow as being in “England”.

        2. Mark Twain was supposed to have said the the coldest winter he ever spent was the summer he spent in San Francisco. Likely he didn’t but ….

          1. I’ve never been able to find that line in any of his works that I’ve read, but he did include (in Roughing It as I recall) one that I agree with: “It is not always hot in Sacramento — only 143 months out of twelve years.”

    2. June, July and August

      Which of course squares with the practical definition of Summer (not the calendrical one) as starting over Memorial Day weekend (end of May) and ending over Labor Day weekend (beginning of September), and “midsummer” being the 4th of July weekend.

  2. And of course here in darkest Canberra it’s the shortest day of the year, and therefore by one definition the literal middle of winter. But it’s usually colder in July and August – so where’s the logic in that?

    1. In NZ, Summer is normally recognised as Dec/Jan/Feb. If you plan to visit, Feb is a good time, as school has started and tourist spots are less crowded.

  3. Up in the coastal PNW, we tend to have real summer in July/August/September – with June being a kind of dodgy month in general – sometimes hot as hell, more often gray and sometimes (like this year) rainy – after a really lovely May (our big Spring month, tho April isn’t bad ;>).

    June 21, even amongst my Pagan friends, tends to be thought of as “first day of summer” even though it’s celebrated as “midsommer” – but Autumnal Equinox tends to be thought of as “first day of fall” too – partly because of weather (it’s the end of summer around here) and partly because of school schedules.

  4. Here in Japan, there are apparently five seasons…

    Fall, Winter, Spring, Rainy Season (Tsuyu), and Summer

    Tsuyu started about a week ago, and will go on for about a month. It feels like we’re drowning standing up, the humidity is that high, and it threatens to rain or does rain, almost every day. My teachers say that after Tsuyu ends, it will officially be summer in Japan, which puts it at mid-July. And it’s summer here until fall starts at about October 1st or so. Then, Fall goes to about Decemberish, at which point there is winter until April. Spring covers April to mid-June.

    1. And the question is, what makes that the ‘official’ date?

      Is there a statute?

      Or did some prescriptivist once upon a time say to himself (I’ll make that assumption) ‘I think we need an official date, I’ll use the solstice because it’s the only date we can pin down in any way whatsoever’.

  5. I used to argue with my family about this – at least in southern England it usually feels like summer well before June 21st…. but that’s just to do with warmth, not to do with anything in the cycle of the land.

    Does summer actually come later in today’s world than it did when the Britons called Midsummer Midsummer, or did ‘summer’ mean something a little bit different to them?

    1. There is a time differential between the North of England and Southern England that means that Spring always arrives at least a couple of weeks or so earlier in the South East of England than it does in the North East and then you have to allow a certain wobbliness in seasonal variations to given historical periods like the ‘ little ice age ‘ ..

      Tie that in to songsters singing of ‘The Springtime ..pretty little Ring Time ‘ in a Hey Nonny Ninny sort of way and you wonder whether or not they had icicles forming on their bloody lutes even as they sang.

      It’s not all that exact from one year to the next but there’s always been significant difference in the arrival of the warmer seasons in various parts of the UK ..which after all wasn’t United until fairly recently and may not remain united very much longer if the Scottish Nationalists have their way.

      I still have arguments with people over the real meaning of our Ancient Saying .. ” Ner Cast a Clout ’til May is Out “

  6. The term solstice comes from two Latin words and essentially means that the Sun is standing still. That is there is very little change in its Astronomical coordinate of declination, or its altitude above the horizon at local apparent noon, from the day before or the day after. See

    Now was the Astronomical event named for the season or was the season named for the Astronomical event? I think the former. But here in the US we will always hear from the local weather person that the solstice date is the “official” start of summer or winter.

    As someone else has already said, the meteorological definition of the start of the seasons is the first day of the month containing the associated Astronomical event. This makes sense in terms of what you pay for either heating or cooling where you live.


  7. Here in Finland, Midsummer is a big holiday celebrated everywhere, and it is usually a little after the summer solstice (more accurately, the Saturday between June 20 and 26). However, I think most people regard summer to be from the beginning of June to the mid- or end of August (i.e. the school summer vacation, plus a couple of weeks). So Midsummer is actually about-one-third-of-the-summer.

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