Summer “officially” begins early Friday, but why isn’t it our longest day of the year?

Posted at 7:26 AM, Jun 19, 2013
and last updated 2013-06-19 11:07:19-04

RICHMOND, Va. (WTVR) – Based on Earth’s trip around the Sun, Summer “officially” begins Friday, June 21 at exactly 1:04 a.m. EDT. That moment is called the “Summer Solstice,” when the Sun’s most direct rays are directly over the Tropic of Cancer.


The Earth is tilted on its rotation axis, so that means different regions of Earth receive sunlight differently through the year as we orbit the Sun.


And from our perspective here on Earth, the Sun appears higher or lower in our sky because of this tilt during the year.


In the Northern Hemisphere, the date of the Summer Solstice is approximately the longest day of the year (based on daylight time). But for Richmond, even though the Summer Solstice falls on Friday, June 21, our longest daylight day is the previous day, Thursday, June 20.


Friday, June 21, we actually have one second less of daylight in Richmond.
In case you were counting… Because the solstice falls overnight for our local time, our longest daylight occurs the date before.

As a meteorologist, though, I consider the months of June, July and August to be Summer! (Fall in the weather-world is September-November, Winter is December-February, and Spring is March-May).

Now is a good time to remind you of Summer safety tips!

If you choose to cool off in our River City, you should always check the river level before you get in or on the James in Richmond. CLICK HERE for the latest hydrograph for the Westham Gauge. If the river level is 5 feet or higher, you are required to wear a life jacket (it’s the law!). If the river level is 9 feet or higher, you are required to have a legal permit to be in or on the James.

Re-familiarize yourself with the Heat Index chart, remembering that this is for what the sensory temperature feels like to you in the shade. You can tack on another 10 to 15 degrees Fahrenheit if you’re in the sunlight.

Here’s a similar graph, detailing some of the impacts you can experience:

The average adult requires two to three liters of water a day when active outdoors in warm weather. So instead of downing a two liter of soda, replace that with water!

Heat-related illness is sometimes described as a “quiet killer” because it’s not a natural disaster that is visibly destructive, like a tornado or hurricane. However, the NCSCP says on average that more than 30 outdoor workers (people often well-equipped to daily deal with the elements) have died from heat exposure every year since 2003. The Department of Homeland Security, NWS, CDC, and EPA collaborated to create An Excessive Heat Events Guidebook for you. CLICK HERE to check it out! If your profession requires you to be outdoors for extended periods of time, CLICK HERE for information directed for you.

As for sun exposure, “more than three million new cases of skin cancer are diagnosed in the U.S. each year,” says the NCSCP. Some of this is because of increased awareness and better skin cancer detection, but it is still worth noting that skin cancer cases are greater in number than breast, colon, lung and prostate cancers combined. Remember, the UV Index has nothing to do with the air temperature, but rather with how much of the Sun’s damaging UV rays are making it to your skin. If you snow-ski, then you know you can still get sunburned in cold weather! We post the UV Index on our weather page here. The EPA provides these daily updates on the UV Index.

CLICK HERE to go to the SunWise EPA page to learn more.
If you are traveling outside of central Virginia and need to know the UV levels elsewhere in the U.S., the Climate Prediction Center issues a national UV map, including where there are “alert” levels, for the contiguous 48 states. CLICK HERE to go to that map.

The CDC states, “Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States, and the majority of these cancers are caused by exposure to UV radiation. Skin cancer risk can be reduced by seeking shade, wearing protective clothing, using sunscreen with broad spectrum (UVA and UVB rays) protection and sun protection factor (SPF) 15 or higher, and avoiding tanning beds.”
CLICK HERE for more information on skin cancer statistics, prevention, and CDC’s skin cancer initiatives.
CLICK HERE to learn more about skin cancer prevention.

NOAA provides the following heat illness descriptions:
Heat Disorder Symptoms

SUNBURN: Redness and pain. In severe cases swelling of skin, blisters, fever, headaches.
First Aid:
Ointments for mild cases if blisters appear and do not break. If breaking occurs, apply dry sterile dressing. Serious, extensive cases should be seen by physician.

HEAT CRAMPS: Painful spasms usually in the muscles of legs and abdomen with heavy sweating.
First Aid:
Firm pressure on cramping muscles or gentle massage to relieve spasm. Give sips of water. If nausea occurs, discontinue water.

HEAT EXHAUSTION: Heavy sweating; weakness; cold, pale, clammy skin; thready pulse; fainting and vomiting but may have normal temperature.
First Aid:
Get victim out of sun. Once inside, the person should lay down and loosen his or her clothing. Apply cool, wet cloths. Fan or move victim to air-conditioned room. Offer sips of water. If nausea occurs, discontinue water. If vomiting continues, seek immediate medical attention.

HEAT STROKE (or sunstroke): High body temperature (106° F or higher), hot dry skin, rapid and strong pulse, possible unconsciousness.
First Aid:
HEAT STROKE IS A SEVERE MEDICAL EMERGENCY. SUMMON EMERGENCY MEDICAL ASSISTANCE OR GET THE VICTIM TO A HOSPITAL IMMEDIATELY. DELAY CAN BE FATAL. While waiting for emergency assistance, move the victim to a cooler environment reduce body temperature with cold bath or sponging. Use extreme caution. Remove clothing, use fans and air conditioners. If temperature rises again, repeat process. Do NOT give fluids. Persons on salt restrictive diets should consult a physician before increasing their salt intake.
(Again, all of the above information on heat-related illness is from NOAA here.)

Of course, heat impacts are amplified within enclosed spaces like vehicles. Even parked with open windows, higher temperatures occur inside vehicles because of the glass, the dash, the often-dark colored fabrics inside radiating back heat inside the vehicle. This is obviously a serious danger to pets or children left in parked vehicles. NOAA says that last year 33 children died from hyperthermia (overexposure to heat).

CLICK HERE to learn more about heat safety for you, your family, and your pets.
CLICK HERE for car safety tips.

More heat wave and UV safety tips:

1.  Slow down.  Strenuous work or recreational activities should be reduced, eliminated, or rescheduled to the coolest time of the day.

2.  Get acclimated.  Gradually increase outdoor work and recreational activities so your body adjusts to hot conditions.

3.  Dress in lightweight, light-colored clothing to reflect heat and sunlight, and wear sunglasses and hats.

4.  Drink plenty of water or other non-alcoholic fluids.  Drinking alcoholic beverages should be avoided.

5.  Do not take salt tablets unless directed by a physician.

6.  Take frequent breaks during work or play.  Spend more time in air-conditioned places and seek shade outside, especially during midday hours.

7.  Check the UV Index, follow the “SunWise” safety steps, and avoid prolonged exposure to the sun. Avoid indoor tanning.

8.  Never leave any person or pet in a closed, parked vehicle for any amount of time.

9.  Generously apply sunscreen of SPF 15 or higher that provides broad spectrum (both UVA and UVB rays) protection.

10. Know what the signs and symptoms or heat illness are – check on workers, particularly those wearing protective suits. Elderly persons, small children, chronic invalids, those on certain medications or drugs, outdoor workers, persons with weight and alcohol problems and caretakers for these people should pay especially close attention to the above tips,  particularly during heat waves in areas where excessive heat is rare.

In other astronomy news…CLICK HERE to learn about this month’s special Full Moon.
Meteorologist Carrie Rose
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