While Americans living in the Midwest have been struggling to cope with heavy rains and flooding, Texans have been dealing with just the opposite conditions — hot and dry. Burn bans have been put in place by county officials, and firefighters have been kept extremely busy controlling grass fires throughout the area.

And now, the sticklers for detail among us step forward with the reminder that today is the official first day of summer. This this is the start of the hottest season of the year, what have we been experiencing for the past two months?

For those living in this region, the June solstice is merely a time that marks the longest day — in terms of sunlight — of the year.

The solstice occurs at the same moment, everywhere on Earth, but the hour where we are differs when that happens. Almanac publishers report that the hour today is 23:59 Universal Time, just one minute before the Universal Time calendar rolls over to Saturday. As a result, there could be some debate about whether the first day of summer this year falls on June 20 or June 21. However, that’s a matter of geography, determined on where you are at the appointed hour.

For us in Central Texas, that moment corresponds to 6:59 p.m. Central Day Time… today. Universal Time is five hours ahead of us.

The solstice is an astronomical event, caused by Earth’s tilt on its axis, and its motion in orbit around the sun. Because Earth doesn’t orbit upright, but is instead tilted on its axis by 23-1/2 degrees, Earth’s northern and southern hemispheres trade places in receiving the sun’s light and warmth most directly. All locations north of the equator have day lengths greater than 12 hours at the June solstice. Meanwhile, all locations south of the equator have day lengths less than 12 hours.

Assuming the clouds have parted, look at your shadow if you’re outside at noon today. It will be the shortest shadow you’ll see at any time during the year.

Meanwhile, if it seems like summer arrived much earlier this year — based solely on the temperatures — you’re right. For us in the United States, with summer beginning today, the 2008 solstice is the earliest solstice since 1896.

It may not be scientific, but it’s no wonder the heat is on.

Brownwood Bulletin