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Winter Solstice Soon: Most Intense Sunset Colors for Washington / Oregon Coast

Published 12/18/23 at 5:35 a.m.
y Oregon Coast Beach Connection staff

(Warrenton, Oregon) – This Thursday, there's something a little unusual in the skies of the Oregon coast and Washington coast – but you may not be able to tell unless you know what to look for. Yet one thing will be obvious: sweeter sunset colors. (Above: winter sunset at Seaside, Oregon Coast Beach Connection)

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December 21 is when the Winter Solstice kicks in, starting at 7:27 p.m. here in the Pacific Northwest. In that moment and that day, this is when the Earth's north pole is tipped farthest away from the sun.

OMSI's astronomy expert Jim Todd said that from Portland's point of view, the sun hits its lowest southern point at 21.6 degrees on the horizon, the very pinnacle of the shortest day of the year, something that was really an important aspect of the world to our more primitive ancestors.

“On December 17 - 25, we will have nearly 8 hours and 42 minutes of daylight to enjoy,” Todd said.

This time of year also means something else intriguing when it comes to those sunsets on the Oregon coast and Washington coast. Many scientists – and pro photogs – note that sunsets just seem prettier in winter.

Lincoln City in winter - Oregon Coast Beach Connection

There is actual empirical data that says it doesn't just seem that way – sunsets about now ARE more intense.

“Because of the low angle of the sun's arc, it will produce the most spectacular sunrises and sunsets of the year,” Todd said.

Part of that can also be the lack of humidity when skies are clear and it's cold out, according to scientists from National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

On the coastlines of Washington and Oregon, air tends to be cleaner as well, which cuts down on particulates that can cause color-dampening haze, according to the Coastal Interpretive Center in Ocean Shores, Washington.

Yet the solstice brings more glad tidings than the holly, ivy, Christmas cheer and its ancient Pagan origins that are straight out of a Jethro Tull tune.

“It is easy to see why our ancestors could be frightened by the sun's movements,” Todd said. “They believed that if the Sun continued its journey south, the world would be plunged into eternal night. Winter solstice celebrations were so widespread in our Western culture that the early Christian church decided to move Christmas to the time of the solstice. For those of you who dislike the dark winter days, look at the bright side: after December 21, the days will gradually grow longer and the nights shorter as Earth completes its yearly journey around the sun.”

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Andre' GW Hagestedt is editor, owner and primary photographer / videographer of Oregon Coast Beach Connection, an online publication that sees over 1 million pageviews per month. He is also author of several books about the coast.

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