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Last Updated: Friday, 3 March 2006, 13:09 GMT
What day does spring start?
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The Magazine answers...

Spring at Paultons Park near Romsey in Hampshire
One spring tradition
It's snowing but according to the Met Office spring has sprung. Others disagree. So what day does spring start?

Much of the country is in the grip of icy winter weather but according to the Meteorological Office spring is here.

It classes the first day of spring as 1 March, saying March, April and May are regarded as the spring months. But traditionally spring has started on the night of 20/21 March and a row has erupted over the official date.

"You would not regard the first three weeks of June as spring, yet historically summer does not start until 21 June," says a spokesman for the Met Office. "Equally, the bulk of people now regard 1 March as the first day of spring."

Bloom

But disgruntled MPs are questioning "on whose authority" the date has been changed.

"They may say that 1 March is the first day of spring - which it is not - but it certainly doesn't feel like it," says the seasonally named Sir Nicholas Winterton, Conservative MP for Macclesfield.

He is supported by Stuart Bell, Labour MP for Middlesbrough, who says: "Spring starts on March 20/21 and if the Met Office are not aware of this simple fact, it reflects a casual approach to facts, which is all too inherent today."

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A regular feature in the BBC News Magazine - aiming to answer some of the questions behind the headlines

Historically spring starts on the day of the vernal equinox, which usually occurs on the night of 20/21 March.

Vernal comes originally from the Latin word for bloom and refers to the fact that, in the northern hemisphere, this equinox marks the end of winter and the beginning of spring.

An equinox is a time when the nights are as long as the days and the vernal equinox is recognised the world over as the start of the new astrological cycle.

But does that necessarily make it the start of spring? After all, summer is commonly decreed to start on 21 June - the Summer Solstice - yet the following day is known as MID-summer's day.

And since when has the prevailing weather had anything to do with it? Parts of the country may be ankle-deep in snow but cast your mind back three months and the talk was why, in mid-December, the weather felt like spring.

The Met Office, meanwhile, has little time for celestial patterns and historical precedent. It picked 1 March for simplicity's sake, choosing to slot the four seasons neatly into the 12 months... June, July and August are the summer months; September, October and November autumn, and so on.


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