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What Spring Equinox Means on Washington / Oregon Coast

Published 03/16/22 at 6:33 AM PST
By Oregon Coast Beach Connection staff

What Spring Equinox Means on Washington / Oregon Coast

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(Astoria, Oregon) – Springtime is coming. And time is a trippy thing around the world, and that's no exception for the Oregon coast and Washington coast. Spring equinox swoops in to both states and their coastlines on Sunday, March 20, with the exact moment of spring happening at 8:33 a.m. (Above: Cape Blanco on the south coast. Courtesy Manuela Durson - see Manuela Durson Fine Arts for more)

According to Jim Todd of Portland's OMSI, this is technically known as the vernal equinox: the day when both the north and south poles of the Earth are at equal distance towards the sun, which is 92.6 million miles away.

There's not just pleasant-smelling flowers and more sunshine with spring – there's actual astronomy involved.

At that time, the Sun crosses the equator line. After this point, the Northern Hemisphere of the Earth will be tilted towards the Sun more and more, thus making for more daylight and warmer temperatures on the Oregon coast and Washington coast.

“We will then be halfway towards summer, with the winter days soon behind us for another year,” Todd said. “The first day of spring, or the 'vernal' equinox, gets its term from vernal meaning 'green', and equinox meaning 'equal night', which simply means that on this equinox which edges us into the warmer months, the hours of daylight are equal to the hours of night.”

Westport, courtesy Washington State Parks

What that means for weather in places like Long Beach, Coos Bay or Newport – known for typically being colder than inland – is of course, up in the air. At this point, with winter behind us, the Oregon coast and Washington coast start to have more of an even temperature with the inland areas, at least for a little bit. Typically, the coastlines don't get as cold as inland because of the temperate influence of the ocean during winter. In spring, the temperature differences begin to even out and then by later in the season the inland parts leave the coastline in the dust – in the pleasant temperature sense.

On this day, something interesting will happen on the Oregon coast and Washington coast. Take a look at that sunset: you can accurately set direction by it for a day or so.

“On the first day of spring, the sun rises exactly due east and sets exactly due west,” Todd said.

Each day after that it rises just a little bit farther north until the summer solstice on June 21. It will set in the same place for a few days after that.

On March 20, Todd day and night will be equal length over just about all of the Earth, except at the poles. That's when some trippy refraction takes place: where the curvature of the Earth's atmosphere actually bends the sun's rays. This will make the sun visible there through the night, even during those 12 hours the sun is below the horizon.

Again, time makes an interesting appearance in the science of the Washington coast and Oregon coast.

There's a slight time difference between the north Oregon coast and south coast, and even the Washington coast. Though it's extremely subtle.

On March 20, Bandon's sunset will be at 7:29 p.m. after 12 hours and 9 minutes of sunlight. At Cannon beach, Sunset happens one minute earlier, but because sunrise happened a little earlier in the land of Haystack Rock there will have been 12 hours and 10 minutes of daylight when the Sun goes away at 7:28.

In Westport, Washington, sunset happens at 7:29 p.m., just like Oregon's south coast.

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