Downtown Chemainus at twilight last week. Many think because Dec. 21 is the shortest day of the year that it’s also the exact time when daylight hours in the afternoon stop decreasing, but that’s not the case as our weather and climate expert Chris Carss points out. There’s a levelling off taking place right now where the days are indeed shorter for another 11 days but not because it’s still getting slightly darker earlier in the afternoons. (Photo by Don Bodger)

Downtown Chemainus at twilight last week. Many think because Dec. 21 is the shortest day of the year that it’s also the exact time when daylight hours in the afternoon stop decreasing, but that’s not the case as our weather and climate expert Chris Carss points out. There’s a levelling off taking place right now where the days are indeed shorter for another 11 days but not because it’s still getting slightly darker earlier in the afternoons. (Photo by Don Bodger)

Why today actually could mark the start of longer afternoons for Vancouver Island

How a small wobble in the Earth’s axis causes later sunsets even as days shrink until the solstice

A local weather observer is pleased to pass on some good news from astronomers to Vancouver Island residents looking forward to longer afternoon daylight after the winter solstice on Dec. 21.

Although the solstice has the shortest overall hours of daylight between sunrise and sunset, there is a small wobble in the Earth’s axis that causes our afternoons to stop becoming shorter as early as Dec. 10-12 on Vancouver Island.

According to Chemainus-based Environment Canada volunteer Chris Carss, the sunset time which has been getting earlier and earlier since late June finally stalls out at 4:17 p.m. on those dates this year. This value changes very little from one year to the next, but may vary a bit in different parts of the Island.

After that, the sunset times start to become later and later as the sun starts its northward migration until we have our longest hours of afternoon/evening daylight next June.

However, because the winter solstice is still the shortest day of the year, it becomes necessary to “rob Peter and pay Paul” to balance out our daylight accounts. This means our morning sunrise will continue to get later and later until after Boxing Day when the time will stall out at 8:08 a.m., then start getting earlier again around New Year’s Eve.

“So the news is not so good for early risers who like to see some daylight when they wake up during the Christmas season,” Carss said.

In June, this scenario will be turned around and the morning sun will reverse its annual migration before the solstice while the p.m. sun waits.

Carss said Dec. 10-12 also mark the Island’s statistically wettest days of the year based on average frequency of precipitation. After that, the precipitation events gradually become less frequent until the arrival of the dry season in July. In recent years, our coldest temperatures have also been observed in December.

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Christmas lights on the trees in downtown Chemainus. (Photo by Don Bodger)

Christmas lights on the trees in downtown Chemainus. (Photo by Don Bodger)

Chemainus weather observer Chris Carss.