Autumn Equinox and Season Design

Autumn Equinox and Season Design
We have just passed the autumn equinox and what we call “the first day of fall.” It will be late December before fall officially ends at the winter solstice. On the first day of fall here in Michigan, it was unseasonably hot, and people were griping about “where is the cool fall weather we are supposed to have?” Long before the first day of winter on December 20-21, we will have snow. Is there something wrong with the seasons, or is the trouble with our understanding?

“Equinox” suggests that the length of the day is equal to the length of the night. The Sun is overhead at the equator, and from now until December 20 it will be directly overhead at progressively greater southern latitudes until it reaches just past 23 degrees south latitude. Here in the north, the Sun’s elevation above the horizon will get progressively lower, meaning that less and less of the Sun’s energy will strike the Earth’s surface so the weather will get cooler.

The problem with this simple picture is that there is a lag in the seasons. During the summer months in the Northern Hemisphere the lakes and oceans warm from the sunshine. Water has a high specific heat, so that heat is stored and is released slowly. That means we stay warm longer than expected in the fall. In the Southern Hemisphere the picture is complicated by the fact that the Earth is closer to the Sun during their summertime, so the radiation is more intense. That might be a problem except that the Southern Hemisphere has more water than the Northern Hemisphere because oceans cover more of the southern Earth’s surface. With that greater storage and absorption capacity moderates the temperatures in the Southern Hemisphere.

The autumn equinox reminds us of the incredibly well-designed system of the Earth. It is easy to over-simplify the seasons and the equinoxes and solstices, but the system functions remarkably well. Without that careful design, the weather picture would be far more unstable than it is. Proverbs 8:22-31 speaks of wisdom’s involvement in all of the creation. We are just now beginning to understand how the system works and how our use of Earth’s resources affect the system.
–John N. Clayton © 2017

Hurricanes and God’s Design

Hurricanes and God's Design
Our hearts go out to everyone who has been affected by the recent storms in Texas and Louisiana. Our family has members who were flooded and have sustained a terrible loss. The total damage to innocent humans is so massive it is hard to comprehend. Please do not interpret this discussion as being callous, unfeeling, or minimizing the loss that so many have suffered. However, we need to consider the cause of hurricanes and God’s design for life on Earth.

When something like this happens, we receive communications either blaming God or wanting to know why God has allowed it to happen. We would not pretend to have all the answers to the questions that a disaster like this raises. However, this is not a vindictive act of God or retaliation for some human sin. It is a natural product of the design of our planet.

The design is a very good. Spreading water around the Earth in such a way that all latitudes and longitudes have enough water for humans to survive is a difficult challenge. When the Sun is directly overhead at the Equator, it generates heat energy on the surface of the Earth at that locale. The heated air rises and cools. Moisture condenses, and precipitation occurs.

The now dry air moves north and south away from the tropical rain forests. Eventually, it falls back to the Earth at about 30 degrees latitude north and south of the equator. That means there will be a desert at 30 degrees latitude. If you look at a globe, you will see that most of Earth’s deserts are at 30 degrees latitude. This effect is called “The Hadley Cell” and is well understood.

In the United States, 30 degrees north runs through Houston, the gulf coast, and northern Florida. Those areas would be deserts except for hurricanes and God’s design. Low-pressure cells generate over the South Atlantic and move toward the Gulf of Mexico. If these cells pick up enough water due to extra heat, a hurricane can result. Hurricanes bring large amounts of water to what would otherwise be parched, dry areas. When these areas go a long time with no significant water-bearing storms, drought is the result.

When I was a child in the middle of the twentieth century, hurricanes were a time for celebration. Hurricane parties were the rage, and people knew how to “batten down” for the “big blow.” The barrier islands were covered with mangroves which would break up the storm surge. Recharging the aquifers in the area was a good thing for everyone.

Since those days, people have cut down the mangroves and built resorts and beach houses on those barrier islands. Without the mangroves, the storm surges are massive. People have built huge housing developments on land poorly protected from the sea. Even farther inland, massive numbers of people have been put in harm’s way by the changes.

Hurricanes are not an evil, vindictive act of God. In this very incomplete and sketchy review of the cause of storm damage along the coast, we want to say that these storms have a positive effect. They are part of a system designed to make an area that otherwise would be a desert into a good place to live.

Like all the things God has given us, in the use of our land we need to apply wisdom. We have not had a good track record on stewardship of God’s gifts. We should think carefully about the future and use our knowledge and our ability to design and engineer things in a way that will minimize future catastrophes. Meanwhile, we need to join hands, clean up the mess, and help those in need.
–John N. Clayton © 2017