2081: Middle Latitudes

Explain xkcd: It's 'cause you're dumb.
Revision as of 19:39, 5 December 2018 by (talk) (Explanation: Tried to simplify by combining the explanations for the two hemispheres. Also note that within the tropics there are generally two "Lahaina Noons" (sun directly overhead). Calculated min/max length of day at the tropics.)
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Middle Latitudes
Snowy blizzards are fun, but so are warm sunny beaches, so we split the difference by having lots of icy wet slush!
Title text: Snowy blizzards are fun, but so are warm sunny beaches, so we split the difference by having lots of icy wet slush!


Ambox notice.png This explanation may be incomplete or incorrect: Created by WINTER WHILE GETTING A SUNTAN. Need much more details on why it's bleak in the Winter in the middle. Also explain the title text Do NOT delete this tag too soon.
If you can address this issue, please edit the page! Thanks.

Middle latitudes are latitudes between the Arctic or Antarctic Circle (66.5 degrees North/South of the equator, respectively) and the Tropic of Cancer/Capricorn (23.5 degrees North/South of the Equator), two important pairs of latitudes on the globe that delineate some features of how the Sun rises and sets during the day.

North of the Arctic Circle or south of the Antarctic Circle there is at least one day in the year when the sun doesn't set (in Summer) or doesn't rise (in Winter), below that latitude the sun will rise and set every day - if only for a short time. At any latitudes between the Tropics, including the equator, there is at least one day of the year where the sun will shine directly from above. The length of the day between the tropics will also be close to 12 hours regardless of whether it is Summer or Winter. At the tropics the maximum day/night is about 13.5 hours and the minimum is 10.5 hours. At the equator, which is midway between the tropics, days and nights are always 12 hours with a minor change due to the equation of time (change in earth's orbital speed as it gets closer or farther from the sun).

At latitudes between 23.5 and 66.5, north or south, there will be no such "special" days, as the sun will always shine from an angle and always be above the horizon for part of the day and below it for the rest. In the Winter days are shorter, while in the Summer days are longer. These changes are more visible the farther one gets away from the equator, and close to the Arctic the sun will only rise for a few hours in the Winter, and similarly will only set for a few hours in the Summer.

The comic refers to these facts that inside the middle latitudes there are simply no interesting features at any time of the year, however in Winter the sun will set earlier, and generally because of the lower temperatures and shorter days it has a bleak feeling.

The comic also plays on the idiom "split the difference" by applying it to the length of day vs. night. To split the difference is to agree (or settle) on an amount of something, such as money, that is halfway between two others. This can sometimes be characterized as a compromise where nobody gets what they want.

Cueball starts by wishing to experience two extremes: normal sunrise and sunset, vs. weeks of 24-hour darkness. Satisfying one or the other condition requires locating either to the Equator or to one of the poles. Megan proposes a "split the difference" compromise, which turns out to involve dim, bleak winters. Satisfying the compromise would mean locating in the "middle latitudes". Thus the bottom caption, "middle latitudes are the worst."

The title text extends the idea. Splitting the difference between "fun" snowy blizzards and "fun" warm sunny beaches would mean having neither, but instead icy wet slush.

There are other comics that refer to the length of the day, and how it is different each day, a recent one for example is 2050: 6/6 Time


[Cueball and Megan standing and talking, Megan with her arms raised.]
Cueball: It would be nice if the sun could rise and set at normal times. But it would also be cool to experience 24-hour darkness for weeks on end.
Megan: Well, what if we split the difference, so all winter everything was normal but slightly more dim and bleak?
Cueball: Perfect!
[Caption below the frame:]
Middle latitudes are the worst

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I think this is about the fact that in the middle latitudes (such as where Randall lives) The sky can get incredibly grey and dark in the winter. The title text is about how the more mild and/or varying temperatures lead to neither snow nor nothing, instead a half melted slushy substance which has neither the fun of snow nor the heat of nothing. Netherin5 (talk) 17:34, 5 December 2018 (UTC)

Due to light getting bent by the air, any point that has midday darkness will actually have significantly more days of midnight sun than of midday darkness. For the same reason, midday sun occurs farther from the poles than midday darkness. Klausok (talk) 11:49, 6 December 2018 (UTC)

I don't agree with the explanation that 'split the difference' would mean locating in middle latitudes. To me, Cueball already lives there, hence his complaint about the sun not rising or setting at normal times during winter and the caption "Middle latitudes are the worst". Megan's solution would be for normal sun times (longer hours of light) in winter, but the day would be more dim and bleak, so you'd experience less luminosity overall. 16:01, 6 December 2018 (UTC)

  • I think this comic is a bit more abstract than that...which should be obvious from the fact that they're trying to decide where to move based purely on day length. GreatWyrmGold (talk) 07:14, 7 December 2018 (UTC)

And let's not forget the summers. My corner of the middle latitudes "enjoys" both subzero winters and summers with temperatures that go well over a hundred degrees. (Thankfully, that's Fahrenheit.) GreatWyrmGold (talk) 07:14, 7 December 2018 (UTC)

I live in Sydney which is technically a middle latitude and frequently enjoy ice-slush free beaches. In fact I don't think there has every been ice slush on the beaches or even lakes 23:48, 7 December 2018 (UTC)teambob

I think “split the difference” is a reference to Boston, Massachusetts. If you look at where the middle latitudes are in Noth America and “split the difference”, the center runs through the New England region of the United States. The micro climate and proximity to the Atlantic Ocean here cause quick, heavy snow to fall along the coast that then quickly warms into icy slush. Winters in Boston could be described as slightly dim and bleak. The day length is not particularly extreme but it is short enough that the average commuter will travel during some combination of dawn, dusk, and dark for much of the cold season. If you do not make an effort to go outside during mid-day, you can go days without seeing the sun. (Millietea) 11:37, 8 December 2018. (UTC)

Well I think most people prefer dim and bleak weather to constant darkness.