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NZ’s seasons out of sync with majority of world

Every time a new season starts in New Zealand a debate fires up over just why we start and end our seasons earlier than most other countries.

A recent poll at WeatherWatch.co.nz asked readers to tell us when they believe the seasons really start – is it the start of the month, as is recognised now, or is it around the equinox and longest and shortest days of the year?

38% said they believe each new season kicks off at the start of the month.  For example, Spring kicks off on September 1st.

However many argue this date makes no sense – it is the meteorological start of spring and while spring affects our weather, the weather does not control the seasons – the sun and earth’s axis do.  This is called the astronomical start of the season and it is widely recognised around the world as the start and end points to all the seasons.

So while our seasons change under the meteorological dates, the northern hemisphere stays “locked in” to their season until the astronomical date around three weeks later.  When the equinox arrives on September 22 it is this date that most northern hemisphere nations will then recognise the official end to their current season – summer. 

WeatherWatch.co.nz contacted the Depart of Internal Affairs to find out why New Zealand has the odd start and end dates – which we also share with Australia and South Africa.

Senior Communications Advisor Tony Wallace told us as far as he is aware there is nothing “official” around our earlier start and end dates in the sense of “resulting from legislation or regulation”. In other words, they come and they go without intervention by the State and to his knowledge there is no particular agency responsible for regulating seasons.

“The Department of Internal Affairs, though, does have legislative responsibility for Daylight Saving” says Mr Wallace.

He went on to agree with us that the media, and others, often report the 1st day of March, June, September and December respectively as the start of Autumn, Winter, Spring and Summer “no doubt as approximations for the March and September equinoxes and the December and July solstices”.

When we asked him if the dates should change to be in line with the rest of the world Mr Wallace said it was out of their hands – and from what we can tell, it appears to be in no ones hands.  “The Department of Internal Affairs cannot say if the dates are something that could be changed. Because there is nothing official resulting from legislation or regulation then it might be an issue that needs to be raised informally, for example, through community forums and debate”.

So if only 38% said the first of the month should be the start of the season what did the other 62% of readers say?

Well, just 26% supported the astronomical dates around the equinoxes and solstices and 36% answered “It doesn’t have a date, it arrives when it arrives”.

It appears New Zealanders don’t seem too hung up on our odd start dates – and some might even argue it’s good for the mind to be the first to see the new seasons.  But others say that while it may seem good to say farewell to the seasons we like the least, the earlier dates do work both ways – meaning our summer ends 3 weeks earlier than perhaps it should.

– Homepage image / Sunset, Chris Gin

– By Philip Duncan, WeatherWatch.co.nz


Have your say – post a comment below

Comments

David Toews on 18/02/2019 6:42pm

In Canada, we celebrate the beginnings of the seasons on dates that are determined traditionally/socially, much like here in NZ. Most Canadians would say, for example, that Fall starts on the day after Labour Day which is about Sept 3, Labour Day weekend being the last hurrah of summer. I’m pretty sure the Americans do the same thing. We also like to synch our perceptions of the seasons with the school calendar. So summer starts when school lets out for summer.

Guest on 25/05/2018 10:53pm

I would have thought that the equinoxes and solstices marking the longest/shortest days and mid-length days respectively would mark the middle of each season, therefore the start and end of each season would be one month before and after each. 21 May = the start of winter, 21 July the end of winter and so on.I do realise this does not match up with the reality of the weather experienced at these times. Just a thought?

Guest on 22/09/2019 3:18pm

I think winter equinox can’t be mid winter as winter has either (started only 3 Weeks prior) according to new Zealand or it has literally just began according to others. My idea of mid winter is mid July to about early august. But I suppose it depends

Deanna Wright on 5/03/2018 3:41am

Living in Auckland I have to agree the seasons starting on specific dates seems crazy. But are the seasons WBy4ubetter suited to the south of the south island?

Guest on 26/09/2017 5:36pm

Ancient cultures and probably many more still celebrate the equinoxes that mark the beginning and ends of seasons, I don’t know why anyone would set the dates to coincide with the first of the months… I guess it’s just another thing that some modern day societies are quite happy to move away from. I for one would like to celebrate the solstices correctly.

Teresa Matheson on 23/09/2017 8:06pm

I read that it is to do with NZ being settled in modern times when meteorology existed.

Guest on 11/09/2017 1:40am

All the media, not just TV3, now refer to the “official” start of the seasons on the 1st of the month. I think this is one of the ubiquitous Americanisms (who also have a similar official” start for the seasons).

But is there a law or regulation to support this.

While I agree that the astronomical calendar is more accurate, when I was a child in the UK everyone (BBC and the papers included) based their calendar on the natural cycle, so if the daffodils were late so was spring and if the cuckoos or swallows were early, so was summer. Britain too has fallen for the Americanism of having an official start.

Guest on 11/09/2017 1:40am

All the media, not just TV3, now refer to the “official” start of the seasons on the 1st of the month. I think this is one of the ubiquitous Americanisms (who also have a similar official” start for the seasons).

But is there a law or regulation to support this.

While I agree that the astronomical calendar is more accurate, when I was a child in the UK everyone (BBC and the papers included) based their calendar on the natural cycle, so if the daffodils were late so was spring and if the cuckoos or swallows were early, so was summer. Britain too has fallen for the Americanism of having an official start.

Bruce on 2/03/2014 6:36am

Given your reseaech, Phil, why does TV 3 insist on calling the 1st March the “Official start of Spring”. They do it for every season which drives my wife to dispair. Surely as a news program they might have done some research on the topic?

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