Last Friday was a pretty dark day for Seattle. Literally.
In 1996, the University of Washington installed three pyranometers on the roof of one of its facilities in Seattle. The pyranometers measure the amount of solar radiation (also known as sunshine) that reaches the surface of the earth. On Friday, the devices registered an output of only a measly 0.37 megajoules of solar radiation per square meter — the lowest recorded daily measurement for the devices since the date of their installation. The culprits for the dismal results — literally — were the very short day caused by the approaching winter solstice, heavy cloud cover, and heavy rain, too.
I can sympathize with the Seattle residents who cursed the infernal darkness last Friday. I’m not sure whether we’ve got any pyranometers measuring the solar radiation in Columbus, but if there are, they’d be measuring pitiful amounts these days. In the Midwest, our winters tend to be pretty gloomy affairs, too. It’s not that we get a lot of snow — typically, we don’t. Instead, it’s the unrelenting damp, heavy grayness that makes you feel like you’re living and working under a wet woolen blanket. When the sun actually shines, all too briefly, it’s a cause for riotous celebration.
There’s a reason so many Midwesterners are snowbirds who head south for the winter. Sure, they’re searching for warmth, but they’re also on a quest for much-needed sunshine. Their internal pyranometers are telling them that they need to up their personal exposure to those bright, happy megajoules.