First Day of Spring 2020: The Spring Equinox

Celebrate an Early Vernal Equinox and the Start of Spring!

March 19, 2020
Welcome Spring Equinox

In 2020, the spring equinox (also called the March equinox or vernal equinox) occurs on Thursday, March 19, which is earlier than it’s been in over a century! This event marks the astronomical first day of spring in the Northern Hemisphere. Before you try to balance that egg, read this!

The Earliest Spring in More Than 100 Years

If you’re as calendar-obsessed as we are, you may have noticed something odd about this year’s spring equinox date. That’s right—it’s earlier than usual! But that’s a bit of an understatement.

For much of the last century, the spring equinox has occurred on March 20 or 21. This year, however, the equinox happens on the 19th in all U.S. time zones, making it the earliest spring we’ll have seen in our lives (so far). The last time spring arrived this early was in 1896—a whopping 124 years ago! 

Naturally, this leads to some important questions, like: Why is the equinox so early this year? Will the date keep shifting earlier and earlier? Will the equinox ever be on March 21 again? 

Thankfully, Almanac astronomer Bob Berman has the answers to all of our pressing equinox queries. Read all about the quirks of the equinox date in his latest article!

When Is the First Day of Spring?

In the Northern Hemisphere, spring begins with the March equinox, which may occur on March 19, 20, or 21. (In the Southern Hemisphere, the March equinox marks the start of autumn, while the September equinox marks the start of spring.)

Year Spring Equinox (Northern Hemisphere)
2020 Thursday, March 19, at 11:50 P.M. EDT
2021 Saturday, March 20, at 5:37 A.M. EDT
2022 Sunday, March 20, at 11:33 A.M. EDT
2023 Monday, March 20, at 5:24 P.M. EDT

What Does “Equinox” Mean, Exactly?

The word equinox comes from the Latin words for “equal night”—aequus (equal) and nox (night). 

On the equinox, the length of day and night is nearly equal in all parts of the world. 

With the equinox, enjoy the increasing sunlight hours, with earlier dawns and later sunsets. See your personalized Sun rise and set calculator.

Equinox diagram
On the equinox, Earth’s two hemispheres receive the Sun’s rays about equally. 

What Happens on the March Equinox?

On the March equinox, the Sun crosses the celestial equator from south to north. It’s called the “celestial equator”  because it’s an imaginary line in the sky above the Earth’s equator.

If you were standing on the equator, the Sun would pass directly overhead on its way north. 

Equinoxes are the only two times a year that the Sun rises due east and sets due west for all of us on Earth!

While the Sun passes overhead, the tilt of the Earth is zero relative to the Sun, which means that Earth’s axis neither points toward nor away from the Sun. (Note, however, that the Earth never orbits upright, but is always tilted on its axis by about 23.5 degrees.)

After the spring equinox, the Northern Hemisphere tilts toward the Sun. Although in most locations (the North Pole and Equator being exceptions) the amount of daylight had been increasing each day after the winter solstice, after the spring equinox, many places will experience more daylight than darkness in each 24-hour day. The amount of daylight each day will continue to increase until the summer solstice in June, in which the longest period of daylight occurs.

Read more about the reason for the seasons.

Crocus field in spring
Crocuses are a sure sign of spring!

Spring Equinox FAQs

Q: Does Spring Begin on March 1 or on the Equinox?

A: Well, both. The answer depends on your definition of “spring.” Both dates are accurate; they’re just from different perspectives. We’ll explain …

Astronomically speaking, the first day of spring is marked by the spring equinox, which falls on March 19, 20, or 21 every year. The equinox happens at the same moment worldwide, though our clock times reflect a different time zone. And, as mentioned above, this date only signals spring’s beginning in the Northern Hemisphere; it announces fall’s arrival in the Southern Hemisphere.

Interestingly, due to time zone differences, there isn’t a March 21 equinox in mainland U.S. during the entire 21st century! We won’t see a March 21 equinox again until 2101.

Meteorologically speaking, the official first day of spring is March 1 (and the last is May 31). Weather scientists divide the year into quarters to make it easier to compare seasonal and monthly statistics from one year to the next. The meteorological seasons are based on annual temperature cycles rather than on the position of Earth in relation to the Sun, and they more closely follow the Gregorian calendar. Using the dates of the astronomical equinoxes and solstices for the seasons would present a statistical problem, as these dates can vary slightly each year.

Daffodils in field
Did you know that daffodils are one of March’s Birth Flowers?

Q: Are Day and Night Equal on the Equinox?

A: No, but they are close to equal. In reality, day and night are not exactly equal at the equinox for two reasons: First, daytime begins the moment any part of the Sun is over the horizon, and it is not over until the last part of the Sun has set. If the Sun were to shrink to a starlike point and we lived in a world without air, the spring and fall equinoxes would truly have ‘equal nights.’

Read about more fun facts in the Almanac Astronomer’s post, “March Equinox Oddities.”

Q: According to folklore, you can stand a raw egg on its end on the equinox. Is this true?

A:  This egg folklore became popular in 1945 following a LIFE article about the spring adage. “The origins of this myth are attributed to stories that the ancient Chinese would create displays of eggs standing on end during the first day of spring,” John Millis, assistant professor of physics and astronomy at Anderson University. “The ancient Chinese celebrated the first day of spring about six weeks earlier than the equinox” so it’s not just on the equinox itself.

As with most folklore, it’s only partly true. It should be balance an egg on its end but also it’s possible to balance an egg on other days, too.

Folklore or not, this egg trick sounded like fun to us. One spring, a few minutes before the vernal equinox, several Almanac editors tried this trick. For a full workday, 17 out of 24 eggs stood standing. Three days later, we tried this trick again and found similar results. Perhaps 3 days after the equinox was still too near. Perhaps the equinox has nothing to do with it. Perhaps we just don’t like to take ourselves too seriously!

Try this yourself and let us know what happens. (Tip: You’ll probably have better luck balancing the egg if you use a rough surface or an egg that has a bumpy end.)

Spring bird bath

Q: Which Day Has the Most Sunlight in North America?

A:  The Summer or June Solstice is called the “longest” day of the year! The date of the longest day actually varies between June 20 and June 22, depending on the year, and the local time zone. By “longest day,” we mean the day that gets the most daylight (versus darkness). See our Summer Solstice page.

How Do You Celebrate the Vernal Equinox?

To us, the vernal equinox signals new beginnings and nature’s renewal in the Northern Hemisphere!
Many cultures celebrate spring festivals, like Easter and Passover.

Observe nature around you!

  • Are worms and grubs reappearing? (The March Full Moon is called “The Full Worm Moon” for this very reason!)
  • Watch the arc of the Sun across the sky as it shifts toward the north. Birds are migrating northward, along with the path of the Sun.
  • Are you noticing that the days are getting longer? Did you know that the increasing sunlight is what triggers birds to sing? Cool, eh? Enjoy our Bird Songs page.
  • Are the daffodils poking up their heads? Trees, shrubs, and flowers are sensitive to temperature and day-length, too! Since ancient days, people have used them as indicators of when the weather is right for planting. For example: Blooming crocus are your cue to plant radishes, parsnips, and spinach. See more of nature’s signs.
  • Can you feel the Sun getting stronger? The longer days bring high temperatures. Both we and the animals around us strip off our clothes and heavy coats!
  • Are you getting itchy to get outdoors? March is time to start gardens and sow seeds in many regions. See the best planting dates according to your local frost dates or our Vegetable Gardening for Beginners guide for gardening tips!
  • Are you craving fresh foods after a long winter? A Spring Tonic, using the early greens of spring, may be just the thing you need! Also, find some new spring recipes using what’s fresh and seasonal!

Rabbit with clover flower

Ancient Equinox Traditions: The Snake of Sunlight

Scientific explanation aside, our ancestors were more connected to the Sun than we are today. They observed its pathway across the sky; they tracked how the sunrise, sunset, and day length changed, using the Sun (and Moon) as a clock and calendar.

There are many ancient sites that mark the equinoxes (and solstices). One of the most famous ancient Spring equinox celebrations was at Chichen Itza in Mexico. The Mayans built a huge pyramid around the year A.D. 1000.  The play of the Sun’s light on it signals the beginning of the seasons. On the spring equinox, it looks like a huge snake is slithering down the steps. Mayans called this day “the return of the Sun serpent.”

chichen-itza_full_width_0.jpg

See more examples of ancient seasonal markers.

Spring Verse, Quotes, and Sayings

Verse

  • For glad Spring has begun,
    And to the ardent sun
    The earth, long time so bleak,
    Turns a frost-bitten cheek.

    - Celia Thaxter, American poet (1835–94)
     
  • Spring-time sweet!
    The whole Earth smiles, thy coming to greet. 
    - Unknown
     
  • Never yet was a springtime,
    Late though lingered the snow,
    That the sap stirred not at the whisper
    Of the southwind, sweet and low.

    - Margaret Elizabeth Sangster, American writer (1838–1912)

Quotes

  • Spring is nature’s way of saying, “Let’s party!”
    - Robin Williams (1951–2014)

Sayings

  • Bluebirds are a sign of spring; warm weather and gentle south breezes they bring.
  • One swallow does not make a spring.
  • In spring, no one thinks of the snow that fell last year.
  • When the dandelions bloom early in spring, there will be a short season. When they bloom late, expect a dry summer. 
  • Don’t say that spring has come until you can put your foot on nine daisies.

equinox-nature-3106216_1920_full_width.jpg

Learn More About the First Days of Seasons

The First Days of the Seasons are marked by four astronomical events:

Look around! Observe! What are the signs of spring in your region? Please share in the comments below!

720x480-bvc-2020-post-roll.jpg

Reader Comments

Leave a Comment

spring solstice 2020

From my calculations the spring 2020 solstice is March 20 03-50-34 GMT,
sun's declination is 00 00.0

Lit. Astronomical calculations by Jean Meeus. ISBN 0-943396-35-2

Spring solstice 2020

The Editors's picture

Yes, according to GMT (UTC), the March equinox occurred on March 20 at 3:50 am. When converting to Eastern Daylight Time, this changed the date and time to March 19 at 11:50 pm. At the March equinox, the sun’s position is 0 hours right ascension and 0 degrees declination. Thank you!

I hate to have to point out

I hate to have to point out what should be casual to the most obvious observer, but "After the spring equinox, the Northern Hemisphere tilts toward the Sun, which is why we start to get longer, sunnier days." is only 6 months off, because the days start getting longer after the winter solstice.

length of daylight

The Editors's picture

Thank you for your feedback! We have revised that section. In general, after the spring equinox, there will be more daylight than darkness, but you are correct that in the Northern Hemisphere, the length of daylight had been increasing since the December solstice, except for places like the North Pole (where the sun, which disappeared around the September equinox, doesn’t show until the March equinox) and the equator (where the length of daylight essentially is about 12 hours no matter what time of year).

Spring equinox

The time and date of the spring equinox moves about six hours each year because the length of the year is about 365.25 days. See the dates and times in the article above. Then we have leap year so it gets re-set to the earlier date. Let's not forget we had an extra leap year in 2000 because 2000 is divisible by 400 which I suspect is the reason leap year occurred the earliest in 124 years.. There was not a leap year in 1900.

"early" arrival of Spring

OOOOoooo! Earliest in 124 years!!!
Yeah, so much sensationalism for NOTHING!
As I see, at least one other person brought to your attention that this year was a LEAP YEAR!
Therefore, the calendar dates in March have been pushed by a day.
If this wasn't a Leap Year, spring would be on March 20th. NOTHING to see here folks... move along.

Spring

Happy Spring!
You have to believe the buds will blow. Believe in the grass in the days of snow; Ah, that's the reason a bird can sing. On his darkest day he believes in Spring.

You have to believe!

The Editors's picture

Thank you for this cheerful verse by Douglas Malloch (1877–1938). It’s the second verse of his poem “You Have to Believe in Happiness”—and it is a perfect way to start the day and the season. Cheers!

Spring is 'early' this year for another reason...

In case anyone forgot, this year was a leap year so another day was added to the calendar to make up for the fact that the solar year is really 365.25 days long. So technically had there been no February 29th this year to make up for our 'missing' day every 4 years, spring would not have falled on March 19 but on March 20.

Spring

Spring has sprung, the grass has Riz;
I wonder where the birdie is ?
The bird is on the wing.
Now, isn't that absurd;
I always thought the wing was on the bird !

Spring has sprung

The Editors's picture

We can not cite the author of this ditty, but we thank you, Dave, for sharing it and a smile.

spring equinox

First and only time in my life that spring equinox will fall on my birthday! :)

equinox b'day

The Editors's picture

Happy Birthday, Claire!

Spring

The teddy bears dancing, of course. But seriously, the pollen here in deep east Texas is so thick it turns my black vehicle yellow! Then I know it's Spring.

I saw two robins ....

Today out my front window. Earliest sighting I recall here in SE Minnesota.
Spring must be on the way !!

Spring

Here in Denver spring is really not here until around the first of April. If were lucky.

Sprig signs in Tn.

The daffodils are starting to bloom & so are the Bradford Pears. The grass is turning green & we've been getting a lot of rain. The birds are more active at my feeders. Come on Spring!!!

Correction

Above it says that we wont see another march 21 until 2101.... Im pretty sure you meant an equinox on the 21st right? Cuz you know... There will be about 80 more march 21 in the world until 2101.

First Day of Spring 2020 (Vernal Equinox)

Until I read this article today, I had no idea that my birthday (March 19) is often the first day of Spring. I always said my birthday was on the last day of Winter, so in celebration the next day was Spring. And I'll be 63 in 2020, so I've had quite a few birthdays. ;-)
March 19 is also St. Joseph's Day and the day the Swallows Return to Mission San Juan Capistrano in Southern California. My late Dad told me that and when I was in jr. high school, we lived less than 10 miles from the Mission. I visited San Juan Capistrano once and was fascinated by it's beauty.
Here in Northern Mississippi (2020), there are daffodils ready to bloom all over my front yard and I'm excited for the first flowers to appear. My birthday will have new meaning to me this year and I can't wait for it to get here!

Spring!

The first signs of spring in southwestern Oregon are the blooming of the ornamental trees, the horses shedding, the birds making nests and of course the daffodils! These are all happening before and on the spring equinox.

THE SUN'S LIFEGIVING WARMTH

Here in Spruce Grove, Alberta, Canada we have water running. The warmth of the Spring sun causes the snow to melt and the resulting drips, drops, and tinkling of melted snow let me know Spring has arrived. It runs through the yards, down the driveways and away into the drains, the ground is still frozen solid so it can't absorb the moisture. Traditionally gardens here go in on May long weekend when the ground is warm. Our squirrels are chasing each other around and around and up and down the trees. Spring and love is definitely in the warming air. Kate Kent my Mother said the same rhyme, she was of Highland Scotts descent (McKay and McTavish). I too am wont to repeat it even now. Cheers to all and Happy Spring!

Spring is Sprung

Spring is sprung, the grass is riz
Wonder where is birdies iz ~~

My Irish American Gran, Alice Mae Hurd Kent quoted this to her kids.
Who quoted it to her grankids, and I continue saying this funny little couplet to my grankids.

spring has arrived

In Mississippi it really isn't Spring until the pecan trees start to bud out. They are the last to bud out in the Spring.

FIRST day of spring

Spring might start on the 20th but the first DAY of spring is the 21st. It’s also my birthday. So there.

The Vernal Equinox

Happily, gratefully anticipating today's magic moment of 5:58 PM EDT. I have this quote up on our fridge year-round:
"The world's favorite season is the spring. All things seem possible in May."
- Edwin Way Teale

Well the first day of spring

find the robins have returned, and temperatures are starting to moderate here in SE Minnesota. Still piles of snow in parking lots & at the end of driveways but all the signs of a changing season are there to embrace. Hurray !!

Spring on the edge of Dartmoor

Daffodils, blossom, bushes greening up, Magnolia in full bloom, grape hyacinths

Spring/Winter

Ladybugs and spiders,
crocus and snowbells,
robins and gnatcatchers, cardinals and crows
buds on the lilacs, snow on the ground
forsythia hiding and irises teasing.
is it spring or winter, or merely mud season?

Spring Equinox

On the North Pole, today is the only day the sun rises for the entire year. Six months of night is over and six months of day begins.

equinox

by assuming a certain stance and going thru a series of breathing exercises with correct north, south body alignment it is possible to GREATLY increase your chi (life force) this can be done 4 days a year ( 2 equinoxes and 2 solstices) this can be done anytime however it is MOST effective on these 4 days. been doing this for over 40 years and i assure you it is real!!!

Pages