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What is Indian summer?

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Indian summer
Indian summer is a short-lived but lovely gift
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Indian summer is nature's final hurrah before succumbing to cold

What is Indian summer? Some would say it is natureís last hurrah before the grimness of winter sets in.

According to the Farmersí Almanac (which should know), Indian summer is an unseasonably warm period of time in late autumn. The reason this climatic event occurs is because a pointed shift in the jet stream from the south to the north has taken place and this results in a few days or even a week of good weather. In fact, Indian summer can happen more than once.

In late autumn, when temperatures have already begun to drop, itís become jacket weather and a blanket (or two) is required at night, it is readily evident that itís going to be a long time before itís swimming weather again. Then, bam! The temperature soars and it feels like summer. 

When Indian summer sets in, conditions are warmer than normal, hazy and dry. It can happen as late as mid-November. Technically speaking, if the temperature rises above 70 degrees Fahrenheit after a sharp frost, this is Indian summer. One killing frost and a period of significantly cool weather must happen before a warm spell before it is considered Indian summer by meteorologists. 

Indian summer is a weather singularity. This means it is a climate event that happens the same time of the year. However, the extent to which Indian summer is experienced depends on the location. The central and eastern states in the United States are ideal for Indian summer because a wide variation in wind strength and temperatures from summer to winter is required to produce this climate event, and these variations occur in these areas.





In Wisconsin, for example, Indian summer means that the weather is dry (no rain), and the lowest daily temperature is above freezing or much higher. It also means that the maximum daily temperature is 65 degrees, and it occurs after the first frost.

Because Indian summer occurs at nearly the same time each year, and because plants and animals respond in specific ways linked to weather patterns that occur at approximately the same time each year, the concept of Indian summer became part of folklore. It is also a part of the farmersí vernacular because this weather phenomenon lets the farmer know when the best planting and harvesting dates are in a given year.

Why it is referred to as ďIndianĒ summer isnít completely understood. Theorists think it may have to do with the fact that Indian summer was likely to occur in regions where North American Indians lived. Perhaps this phenomenon wasnít experienced by the Europeans until they moved to America, where Native Americans were, thus the name.

Another theory is that Native Americans were cognizant of this weather pattern that occurred each year and set aside this time to harvest their crops during this period of mild, warm late autumn weather. Another possibility is that the American settlers mistakenly thought sun rays in the misty fall air were the campfires of the Native Americans.

Indian summer is a reprieve from the cold weather that has begun and promises to get worse. Itís an opportunity to get back outside, one last time, and revel in the waning yet golden days of fall. 

In Europe, Indian summer is called Old Wivesí Summer.

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