As we near the official mark of autumn this week, shorts and flip flops have been retired and sweaters are coming out of storage.
Though meteorologists consider Sept. 1 the start of fall for record keeping purposes, the autumnal equinox signals the beginning of astronomical fall. This year, that happens this Wednesday, Sept. 23.
Equinox seems like a really complex term, but it's actually pretty simple. Here's a breakdown:
1. What is an equinox?
As reported by weather.com, twice a year around March 20 or 21 and Sept. 22 or 23, the sun's rays shine directly over Earth's equator. These days are known as the March equinox (vernal or spring equinox in the Northern Hemisphere) and the September (autumnal) equinox.
2. What happens during the autumnal equinox?
During the autumnal equinox, day and night are balanced to about 12 hours each all over the world. Instead of the Earth tilting away from or toward the sun, its axis of rotation becomes perpendicular to the line connecting the centers of the Earth and the sun.
"This change in the tilt causes the change in seasons with the northern hemisphere moving from the warmth of summer to the chill of winter," said weather.com digital meteorologist Linda Lam. "This process includes a shift in the overall location of the jet stream which plays an important role in weather conditions."
From that point on, daylight in the Northern Hemisphere gradually becomes shorter up until the winter solstice. This is the opposite of what occurs in the Southern Hemisphere, where daylight won't grow any longer.
3. How can I tell the equinox is happening?
In addition to seeing the leaves change and advertisements for pumpkin spice-flavored everything, the equinox brings about temperature changes.
"Fall is a transition season and in the U.S. fall is usually characterized by large variations in temperatures, as well as an increase in low pressure systems bringing rain, storms and even snow across the country," said Lam. "Generally in the U.S. after the fall equinox, temperatures continue to become colder and snow becomes more common."
New England takes the nation's prize for most glorious autumn leaf-peeping opportunities, especially in Boston. Hop aboard one of the many bus or boat tours in downtown Boston to explore nearby New England towns and regions like Cape Cod or New Hampshire. Or simply take a stroll along the Charles River, where colorful autumn leaves line the river banks.
Every October, you can also see rowers cut through the waters in slender skiffs. One of Boston's most popular events, the Head of the Charles Regatta draws more than 8,000 athletes to the city to compete in what is the world’s largest 2-day rowing race. In the autumn, Boston's football, hockey and basketball teams start to heat up, too, as students return to the dozens of metro area colleges. Grab tickets to a Patriots or Bruins game -- football and hockey reign supreme this time of year. And make sure to plan a visit to coincide with Columbus Day; Boston’s Italian North End neighborhood puts on a massive celebration, with a parade, live music and family activities.
Who wouldn't want to visit one of America's most haunted cities in autumn? Savannah's spooky factor and popular ghost tours are reason enough to visit this historic city any time of year, but the town's aura feels even more ominous with Halloween on the horizon. Fall also brings a medley of events and festivals to Savannah, such as Oktoberfest, the Savannah Folk Music Festival and the Savannah Film Festival.
Because Savannah is known for its genteel gardens, squares and mansions, plan to spend a fair share of time outside. A good bet is to explore the city via a Savannah Tour of Homes and Gardens walking tour, which takes visitors through many of the city's gorgeous historic homes. Set the creepy mood on a Blue Orb Tours walking ghost tour. Or get close to the dead with a visit to the Bonaventure Cemetery, the setting for the famed book, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. The moss-covered graves are the final resting places of Confederate soldiers, generals, plantation owners and scions of wealthy families.
Nashville takes its music very seriously -- hey, it's didn't earn the nickname "Music City" for nothin' -- and fall amps up the sounds of the city with a full array of music festivals. Grab your cowboy hat and boots, and kick up your heels at the season’s best events: the popular Next BIG Nashville Soundland festival, the International Bluegrass Association's World of Bluegrass festival (which is held at the historic Ryman Auditorium), the Americana Music Festival, and the biggest party in town, the CMA Awards. From mid-September through mid-October, visitors can also catch Live on the Green, a 6-week series of outdoor concerts featuring up-and-coming local artists, held on Thursday nights.
Once you've gotten your music fill, wrap your head around Nashville's awesome autumn-themed offerings, such as ghost tours, haunted houses, corn mazes and scarecrow exhibits. The Nashville area is home to a fair share of spook-tacular hauntings, such as the abusive Bell Witch, the Body Farm, and even a few alleged spirits at the Grand Ole Opry House, where apparently not all former country stars go gently into that good night.
New Orleans' intrigue snaps into high gear come fall, as heat and humidity drop and the city's ghoulish past rises to the forefront thanks to spooky tours and events. Plan your visit around Halloween and be sure to attend the Voodoo Music Experience, a 3-day festival of music, underground arts and culture, and unusual crafts. Family-friendly Halloween-themed events include Boo at the Zoo, featuring games, a haunted house, a ghost train and trick-or-treating; Crawloween at the Insectarium, and Museum Mash at the Louisiana Children's Museum. Other memorable events include the Vampire Ball and Ghostly Galavant walking tour. Of course, for less kid-friendly fun, grab your sassiest costume and head to Bourbon Street to celebrate in creeptastic style.
Still, NoLa's spooky side isn't the only autumn draw to this incredible city. Festivals fill the calendar in October, including Crescent City Blues and BBQ, free, weekly Wednesday concerts in Lafayette Square and the New Orleans Film Festival. Finally, for the sports-minded traveler, check out a New Orleans Saints game at the famed Superdome; 'tis the season.
The gods of weather have graced San Diego with the perfect climate: comfortably warm, dry and typically sunny without ever being unbearably scorching. Autumn is no different in this city by the sea, but what does change is the departure of the summer crowds, leaving San Diego and its attractions quieter and more convenient to visit. Visitors might be tempted to forget that seasons have changed; it's still possible to snorkel in La Jolla Cove, surf at Mission Bay Park and take a hike at Palomar Mountain State Park well into October. Families should take advantage of October's free admission for kids 3 to 11 at the unparalleled San Diego Zoo, which also allows guests to camp overnight at the zoo through November by signing up for the Roar and Snore Safari program.