Bill Sniffin: The Longest Night Of Wyoming’s Year

Publisher Bill Sniffin writes: This time of year, the sun going down at 4:15pm is a shock to the system. In Lander, we lose 20 extra minutes of daylight because the afternoon sun sets behind the Wind River Mountains to our southwest.

Bill Sniffin

December 21, 20213 min read

Sniffin 1
(Cowboy State Daily Staff)

By Bill Sniffin, publisher

 If my late father had a favorite winter day, it would occur on Dec. 22, this year.  That is the day when the nights started getting shorter and days started getting longer.

As he got older and entered the long dark winter of his own lifetime, I think those ever-longer nights and ever-briefer days would remind him of his own life slipping away

He always looked forward to the official first day of winter, which falls on Tuesday, Dec. 21, this year.  He would have a spring in his step, as he got up as early as possible to mark the fact that we had all made it through one more dark winter season. “The future is going to be much brighter, no doubt about it!” he might be saying, if he were still alive.

The theme of the HBO show Game of Thrones was “Winter is Coming.”  I think that theme does not just refer to the seasons but to the overpowering darkness that occurs in the wintertime. My dad died before he had a chance to see that show but he knew what that phrase meant.

I am now in my 75th year. It is easy to identify with his feelings. With that introduction, let me say that, Dec. 21, is (was) a great day. Yes, the nights are shorter. And the days are longer.

Alas, here in Wyoming, we still might have four and half more months of wintry weather.

Some years ago I created markers on my patio showing the location of the setting sun during the spring, summer, fall, and winter solstices and equinoxes. I know that you feel like the sun has moved during the year, but when you see those markers, well it is almost unbelievable.

If I stand looking straight ahead to the marker for the Spring and Fall equinoxes the summer sun marker is far to the my right.  The distance is almost unimaginable when you see how far the winter sun marker is from where the summer sun sets.

Actually, the sun does not move.   The earth tilts on its axis but it just seems like the sun has moved a long, long way.

Of course, this time of year, the sun going down between 4:15 p.m. is a shock to the system. In my hometown of Lander, we lose about 20 extra minutes of daylight because the afternoon sun sets behind the massive Wind River Mountains to our southwest.

And if those days do seem shorter, it is because they are massively shorter.  The longest summer day is five hours and 50 minutes longer than the shortest winter day. About a fourth of the 24-hour day in difference.

This is one of the reasons so many people feel depressed this time of year. Too much darkness.  Two other reasons are cold and ice. Friends all over Wyoming have been slipping on the ice and breaking bones.

Many places in the state get lots of wind, which warms up their towns and melts the ice.  Places like Lander, Riverton, Sheridan, Newcastle, Worland, and Evanston are not quite as prone to get wind, thus ice piles up.  Nothing is quite as depressing as dealing with a broken arm or separated shoulder or fractured hip from a fall.

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Bill Sniffin

Wyoming Life Columnist

Columnist, author, and journalist Bill Sniffin writes about Wyoming life on Cowboy State Daily -- the state's most-read news publication.