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Our Most Sensational Facts About the Seasons

Human life used to be intrinsically linked to the seasons — taking in the harvest each fall, preparing for the winter, or celebrating the arrival of warmer weather. Even today, the seasons impact our lives, whether we’re preparing for some beach time or a serious snowfall. The facts below, drawn from around the website, spotlight some of the fascinating science and culture around each season. For example, do you know what time of year the sky looks bluest? Or where our names for spring and fall come from? When did people start “leaf peeping,” or celebrating the cherry blossoms? Read on for our 25 favorite facts connected to the seasons of the year.

Children grow faster in the Spring

If you think the son/niece/grandchild in your life starts to sprout before your eyes once the winter clothing has been shed, you're probably not imagining things. Researchers have long studied the connection between seasonal changes and youth growth patterns, with substantial evidence pointing to higher rates of growth among children in the Northern Hemisphere during the spring and summer months. While we might question results drawn from, say, a 1930 publication, newer research has validated these older findings: A 2015 study of 760 Danish students ages 8 to 11 revealed the most growth recorded around April and May, while a 2022 paper, which tracked the development of thousands of Texas kids from kindergarten to fifth grade, confirmed strong growth rates in spring and early summer.

The science is less definitive when it comes to determining the reasons behind the growth. One possible explanation is that exposure to longer hours of sunlight may stimulate bone growth and hormone regulation. Other potential factors, which can vary according to location and financial means, include increased access to fresh foods and healthy activities come springtime.

Autumn was once called Harvest

As beloved as the crisp fall weather seems to be, English speakers haven’t always paid attention to it … at least not linguistically. Historically, the more extreme seasons have always been named — specifically winter, which was so important that it was used to mark the passage of time by the Anglo-Saxons, who counted their years in winters. But when English speakers of the past referred to summer’s end, they often used the term “harvest,” from the Old English (and ultimately Germanic) haerfest. The first recorded usage of “harvest” to mean a season appears in the 10th century, but the word didn’t stick around in common usage; by the 1700s, it was considered outdated.

Eventually, the English language began recognizing the transitional seasons. Spring was first known as “lent” or “lenten” in the 12th and 13th centuries, then “spryngyng time,” among other terms, around the 14th century. “Autumn” emerged around the 1300s, taken from the Latin autumnus and French autompne, and slowly pushing out “harvest.” “Fall” cropped up around the 1500s as part of “fall of the leaf,” mirroring the popular phrase “spring of the leaf” used for the vernal equinox, and it’s likely that these phrases were simply shortened to give the seasons their modern names. “Autumn” and “fall” have been used interchangeably ever since, with their popularity waxing and waning over time.

The Dog Days of Summer are named after Sirius, the star

When things heat up around July and August, you’ll inevitably hear the phrase “dog days of summer.” This doesn’t have anything to do with canines lying around panting in the heat — instead, the phrase is a celestial reference. Sirius, the brightest star in the night sky, is nicknamed the “dog star” because it makes up the “eye” of the constellation Canis Major (Latin for “Greater Dog”). In Greek mythology, Canis Major is said to be a hunting dog who belongs to the legendary huntsman Orion. Cosmologically speaking, this relationship is fitting, because the three stars that make up the asterism Orion’s belt point to the “dog star” in the southern sky.

The phrase “dog days of summer” actually refers to a specific period on the calendar, from July 3 until August 11. The ancient Greeks and Romans believed these “dog days” occurred when Sirius appeared to rise with the sun, which always occurred during the summer. The idea was that the immense luminosity of Sirius along with the sun’s heat somehow created summer’s scorching temperatures. Of course, we now know this doesn’t make much sense. For one thing, Sirius is much farther away from Earth than the sun is — like 50 trillion miles farther — so the star has absolutely no effect on Earth’s climate. For another, the dog days of summer are relative to where you live on Earth, appearing earlier in the year for those living farther south and later for those in the north. Also, the position of Sirius is subject to Earth’s wobbly rotation — meaning that in 13,000 years, Sirius will rise in midwinter rather than midsummer. So, no, “dog days of summer” isn’t an allusion to our cuddly canines, but a vestigial phrase derived from some 2,500-year-old astronomy.

The ‘April Showers’ saying dates to 16th century England

The surprisingly resilient phrase “April showers bring May flowers” first appeared in English poet Thomas Tusser’s 1557 work A Hundreth Good Pointes of Husbandrie, which contained both poetry and practical advice. The book was widely read throughout England, and scholars believe it was possibly the most popular book of poetry during the Elizabethan era. In the book, Tusser writes, “Swéete April showers, Doo spring Maie flowers.” Of course the validity of such a phrase is very much dependent on where you live. In the U.S., for example, April is only the fifth-wettest month on average, with June often being the wettest overall (more on that later).

The sky looks bluer in the Fall

Although the sky is blue throughout the year, it’s often a richer blue in the fall and winter, especially in latitudes farther from the equator. The reason has to do with both electromagnetism and the biology of the human eye. As a refresher: All visible colors are tied to some wavelength along the electromagnetic spectrum. When sunlight enters Earth’s atmosphere, gas and dust particles reflect the shorter wavelengths of visible light (such as blue) more than longer wavelengths (such as red). That — and the sensitivity of the human eye to the color blue — is why the sky appears as a cool sapphire.

However, as the seasons progress, one part of this equation changes: the sun’s position. As the sun gets lower and lower in the sky, the angle of the sun’s light hitting the atmosphere causes more blue light to scatter, while red and green light decrease. That causes the sky to turn an even richer blue. These blue skies are especially easy to see in much of North America, as cooler temperatures mean less moisture (and therefore fewer clouds), giving you an uninterrupted view of that deep azure atmosphere.

People have been celebrating Cherry Blossom Season for over 1,000 years

Few trees are more beautiful than cherry trees when in full bloom. Although millions flock to see cherry blossoms around the world, the trees have a special resonance in Japan, where they are known as sakura. During Japan’s Heian period (794 to 1185), when art and poetry flourished, sakura became associated with the ephemeral beauty of life, since the blossoms last only a few weeks before wilting. The Japanese aristocracy ate and drank tea under sakura during events known as hanami (“cherry blossom viewing”), a tradition that’s still observed in Japan today. Throughout the centuries, sakura continued to play a role in Japanese society, especially during the Edo period, when the pink blossoms became the subject of many woodblock prints known as ukiyo-e.

Punxsutawney Phil’s predictions are less accurate than a coin toss

He may be heralded as the most prophetic rodent in the world, but Punxsutawney Phil’s annual predictions are far from accurate. According to records, Phil has predicted 107 forecasts of a longer winter compared to just 20 early springs (nine additional years lack records on file). When taking into account the historic weather data that followed Phil’s predictions, he’s been correct only around 39% of the time — making him a less reliable barometer than a coin flip.

Phil has a bit of competition when it comes to weather forecasting. Staten Island Chuck — a resident of New York’s Staten Island Zoo — has a prediction rate over 80%. Chuck went on a hot streak and made a correct weather prediction every Groundhog Day between 2010 and 2021, with the exception of 2017. So while Phil is undeniably more famous, Chuck may have the edge when it comes to actually foreseeing the future.

The color of a leaf in the Fall depends on the type of tree it’s from

There are three different pigments responsible for the coloration of autumn leaves: chlorophyll, carotenoids, and anthocyanin. Chlorophyll, the most basic pigment that every plant possesses, is a key component of the photosynthetic process that gives leaves their green color during the warmer, brighter months. The other two pigments become more prevalent as conditions change. Carotenoids are unmasked as chlorophyll levels deplete; these produce more yellow, orange, and brown tones. Though scientists once thought that anthocyanin also lay dormant during the warmer months, they now believe that production begins anew each year during the fall. The anthocyanin pigment not only contributes to the deep red color found in leaves (and in fruits such as cranberries and apples), but it also acts as a natural sunscreen against bright sunlight in colder weather.

During the transformative autumnal months, it’s easier to discern the types of trees based on the color of their leaves. Varying proportions of pigmentation can be found in the chemical composition of each tree type, leading to colorful contrasts. For example, red leaves are found on various maples (particularly red and sugar maples), oaks, sweetgums, and dogwoods, while yellow and orange shades are more commonly associated with hickories, ashes, birches, and black maples.

June 7 is on average the wettest day of the year

Everyone’s heard of April showers, but it turns out June is the wettest month of the year in the U.S., though results vary by location. Alaska-based climatologist Brian Brettschneideranalyzed 30 years of data from 8,535 official National Climatic Data Center weather stations and found that 2,053 of those sites reported June as their wettest month, while only 76 sites reported April as the wettest. Not only did he discover that June is the wettest month on average in the contiguous U.S., but Brettschneider also calculated that June 7 was the wettest day overall.

June produces so much rain because warm, humid air travels up through the Gulf of Mexico, creating an uptick in thunderstorms that unleash rain across the Great Plains, the Midwest, and the Northeast. That’s why June is often the wettest month in cities such as Minneapolis, Oklahoma City, and Kansas City. June heat also instigates downpours along the Gulf Coast in places like Houston, New Orleans, and Orlando. Things start to dry out as spring turns to summer, but June makes sure that seasonal transition is a tempestuous one.

Male squirrels become smarter in the Fall

Autumn heralds the arrival of many things: pumpkin pie, crisp morning air, and, apparently, more intelligent rodents. Male squirrels get smarter in the fall due to their hippocampus (a part of the brain involved in memory) increasing in size during the caching season — the time of year when they gather even more nuts than usual. Interestingly, female squirrel brains don’t show the same effect; researchers speculate that male squirrel brains may change in the fall to act more like the females’ brains already function all year long. The slightly bigger brains may help male squirrels remember exactly where they’ve stored their nuts, although scientists are still teasing out how.

Children gain the most weight in the summer

While this may seem counterintuitive, given all that frolicking in parks and pools, several studies indeed show that children add the most pounds in summer. So what gives? It may simply be a sign of the technology-fueled times: Instead of chasing after friends, kids nowadays often prefer to engage in video games or other sedentary screen activities when not in school. Some experts also believe that the lack of a school day structure may be to blame: With children less likely to wake up at a regular hour, and parents less likely to enforce strict bedtimes, the irregular sleep patterns that follow end up disrupting the circadian rhythms that impact eating habits and digestion.

Reindeer eyes change colors with the seasons

Rudolph’s nose may have been red, but his eyes were blue — except in the summer, when they would have been golden. That’s because reindeer eyes change color depending on the time of year, which helps them see better in different light levels. Their blue eyes are approximately 1,000 times more sensitive to light than their golden counterparts, a crucial adaptation in the dark days of winter. Only one part changes color, however: the tapetum lucidum, a mirrored layer situated behind the retina. Cats have it, too — it's why their eyes appear to glow in the dark. This part of the reindeer retina shines a different hue depending on the season.

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