Thursday, June 20, 2024
44.0°F

Our planet's orbit now has us closest to the sun

by RANDY MANN
| January 1, 2024 1:05 AM

We’re now into 2024 and it’s almost hard to believe that another year has passed. My parents always told me that when you get older, time passes more quickly. They weren’t kidding. I began my career with the Coeur d’Alene Press in 2004 and this April will mark 20 years.

Our moisture total picked up last month and December’s total for Coeur d’Alene will end up a little above-normal with 4.15 inches of rain and melted snow. The average precipitation for December is 3.90 inches. Our seasonal total for precipitation in Coeur d’Alene will be below normal levels at about 24.03 inches, compared to the average of 26.77 inches.

At the Spokane International Airport, as of late Sunday, a December precipitation total of 3.34 inches was measured, which is over an inch above average for the month. However, their annual rain and melted snowfall total for 2023 was 13.75 inches, compared to the seasonal normal of 16.45 inches.

December’s weather in Coeur d’Alene and much of the Inland Northwest has also been milder than normal. The average temperatures were around 5 degrees above normal levels. As a result, much of the moisture last month fell as rain. For the season, Coeur d’Alene has picked up 8.8 inches of snow, but the airport has received more with 11.8 inches. It’s not very often that Spokane receives more snow than Coeur d’Alene, but that is the case for the season thus far.

Despite the milder weather in December, it looks like there is a better chance for snow in early January. Colder air is expected to move southward late in the week which would bring the lower elevations a good possibility of some measurable snowfall. It’s also going to feel more like winter next week as high temperatures are forecast to drop to below the freezing mark with lows in the single digits and teens in Coeur d’Alene and surrounding regions. Also, there is the chance of additional snowfall during the early-to-mid portion of next week as another cold system moves over the area.

As we get toward the middle of the month, the long-range forecast models are pointing to a brief period of dryness, which would mean at least a few days of dense fog, before there is another chance of snow in mid-January. As I’ve mentioned in numerous articles, we’re now in the middle of a strong, warmer El Niño sea-surface temperature event, so some of the moisture will likely fall as rain in the lower elevations in January. Stay tuned.

With the expected upcoming colder weather, on Jan. 2 at 4:38 p.m., according to time and date.com, our planet will be at the point in its orbit when it’s closest to the sun, which is called the “perihelion.” The word comes from Greek and means “around the sun.” By contrast, the “aphelion” is when the Earth is farthest from the sun in its orbit. This will occur July 4 at 10:06 p.m.

Instead of a circular orbit, the Earth has an elliptical one. Therefore, at its closest point, the Earth is approximately 91.4 million miles from the sun. At its farthest location, we’re about 94.5 million miles from the sun, a difference of just over 3 million miles.

As I’ve mentioned previously, we have seasons because the earth is tilted on its axis by approximately 23.5 degrees. At this time of year, the Northern Hemisphere is tilted away from the sun, which is also why we have shorter daylight hours and a lower sun angle.

By the start of summer June 20, the Northern Hemisphere is tilted toward the sun, allowing us to receive more direct solar radiation and hotter weather, despite being farther away from the sun. Scientists claim that the distance from the sun has very little to do with seasonal changes in temperature and may have only a very minor influence, if any, on extreme weather.

However, there are recent studies that indicate that the current perihelion likely moderates the seasonal variations in the Northern Hemisphere during the winter months. However, by contrast, the intensity of the sunlight in the Southern Hemisphere is higher by 7% as this is their summer season. With a more intense sun combined with a large ozone hole over Antarctica, skin cancer rates in the Southern Hemisphere, especially in Australia, are some of the highest in the world.

According to timeanddate.com, the dates of the perihelion or aphelion will drift by a day on average every 58 years. Therefore, the website states that the Winter Solstice, our first day of winter, was on the same day as the Earth’s perihelion in 1246. Approximately 4,000 years from today, the perihelion is expected to occur around March 21, the first day of spring.

Have a safe and happy New Year!

• • •

Contact Randy Mann at randy@longrangeweather.com.