Sneaky sunburn

2 years ago

Editor’s note: This is a reprint of one of Ted Shapiro’s original Weather Whys columns.

It’s that “sneaky sunburn” time of year again, when the cooler air of April tricks you into forgetting just how strong the sun’s rays are getting. 

As we continue to move through April, the sun will continue to climb in the sky. By higher, think of the angle measure above the southern horizon, when the sun is at the midpoint of its transit across the sky each day. So 0 degrees would be flat to the horizon, while 90 degrees would be straight overhead. 

Here in The County, the sun’s highest point above the horizon each day ranges from only about 20 degrees in late December, to 68 degrees in late June. Even though that 68-degrees-above-the-southern-horizon sun sure feels like it is directly overhead on a hot, still late June or early July day, the fact is that no location in the lower 48 ever has the sun directly (90 degrees) overhead, not even the Florida Keys (although they are very close).

Back to “sneaky sunburns.” By the end of this month, the solar intensity “cousin” date be will around Aug. 10. That means that the sun’s intensity is the same on April 30 as it is on August 10. Everyone thinks of August 10th as a summer day, but they don’t think that about April 30, but again, the sun’s power is the same on those two dates. By the way, you can figure out any day’s solar cousin by simply counting the number of days, starting with the day you are on, right up to the summer solstice, this year on June 21, then take that same number of days past June 21 and you will have your “solar cousin” in terms of solar intensity. 

By the way, as the sun is climbing in the sky and getting stronger, the earth-sun distance is steadily increasing. In other words, the earth is moving away from the sun, even while its rays are getting more intense as we head toward summer solstice. Earth’s orbit around the sun is elliptical, not circular, and at this point in time (the shape of Earth’s orbit around the sun, its tilt on its axis, and other position-in-space aspects of Earth change on scales of tens of thousands of years), the sun is about 3 million miles farther from Earth in early July than it is in early January. 

Stated another way, near our climatologically warmest time of the year, the sun is 3 million miles father away than during our climatological coldest time of the year. 

Meteorologist Ted Shapiro wrote his column “Weather Whys” during the 15 years he was a Presque Isle resident. Although he now lives in southwest Florida, he thought his loyal readers might enjoy a few encore presentations, which will appear in these pages from time to time.