We all know that the shortest day of the year is the winter solstice, December 21. Here we get 8 hours and 50 minutes; not only on that specific day but for about a week as we hit the bottom of the sine wave. The solstice is just at the midpoint of the trough. Right now, on January 18 we have started the climb out of the bottom and have a whopping 9 hours and 17 minutes; and we’re adding two minutes per day. By the end of the first week in February we will be adding 3 minutes per day. We will continue adding 3 minutes until May as we start to reach the top of the hump. By the summer solstice we will have a maximum of 15 hours, 32 minutes.
But what does day length have to do with temperature? It stands to reason that the return of the sun means warmer temperatures, but it doesn’t quite work that way. There’s a time lag. Our warmest day of the summer is on average July 27, over a full month after the longest day. On this scorcher, our average high is 81°F. Remember this when it’s over 100°F where you are! (Now taking reservations!) As for winter, according to wunderground.com for Bar Harbor our coldest average day is…TODAY! January 18. The chart shows an average low temperature of 6°F and an average high of 26°F. Like the bottom of day length, we start to add a degree or two every day from now on.
This law of averages for temperatures is unlike the day length numbers though. Temperatures can be all over the place. This winter is shaping up to be mild (famous last words), with lots of ups and downs. I found budding elderberry shrubs in our woods. Today for example our high was 44°F and the low is projected to be 12°F. Not bad for the “coldest day”. Of course, I’m basing this conclusion on the data from one website, a bad practice. I can’t even find out how many years are used in the averaging.
Temperatures vary widely during winter throughout Maine. Here on the coast we get a lot of weather blowing up from the south and by the time it gets here it’s usually rain. The same day in the western mountains will be solid snow. Up in Caribou it can be 20 degrees colder. Our coldest temperature ever recorded in Maine was -50°F in Big Black River, on January 16, 2009. On that same day in Bar Harbor our low was a balmy -25°F! Makes today’s low of 12°F sound positively tropical! One thing I like to look at to get an idea about how cold things can get here is the ocean temperature. When the ocean freezes over, the temps plummet. Our ocean is currently at 43°F, quite warm.
Our cats are good thermometers. If it’s below 10°F they won’t go outside at all, and they are supposed to be Maine Coon Cats. If it’s between 10°F and 20°F they actually knock or yell at the door to come in. Sometimes they claw open the screen door and let it slam. Above 25°F and they become less panicky, finding warm places to hide while watching small animals, coming in only when it rains or they can’t find anything to torture and eat.