The shortest day of the year in terms of daylight falls on the winter solstice, but that’s not when Tampa sees its earliest sunset. In fact, the earliest sunset occurs during the first few days of December – at 5:34 PM.
While that may seem like an early sunset, it can’t even be compared to other cities across the country. Try living in Chicago, where the earliest sunset occurs on December 8 at 4:19 PM. or Boston with 4:11 PM sunset.
If you think those sunsets are relentless, check out Caribou, Maine … home to one of the earliest sunsets in the lower 48 – which sets at 3:43 pm! December 10 is when Caribou, Maine celebrates its earliest sunset of the year. The northern latitude and location on the eastern edge of the eastern time zone make Caribou home to one of the earliest sunsets of the year.
Some may not realize that this time of year, Caribou shares a similar sunset time to Anchorage, Alaska. Anchorage’s earliest sunset takes place on December 17 at 3:40 PM, just 3 minutes earlier than Caribou’s.
Located 360 miles north of Anchorage, Fairbanks sees the earliest sunset on December 18 at 2:39 p.m.!
If you prefer dark days, Utqiagvik, formerly known as Barrow, Alaska, doesn’t even get a sunrise this time of year. In fact, the sun will not rise in Utqiagvik until January 23, when the sun will rise at 1:04 PM. and sets just under an hour later at 2:14 pm
So why doesn’t Tampa’s earliest sunset fall on the winter solstice?
It has to do with a few factors, such as the concept of the 24-hour day and our latitude.
The latitude of Tampa plays a major role here. Cities near the equator see their earliest sunset sometime in November. The date of the earliest sunset gets closer to the winter solstice the further north you go. This occurs because of the angle of the sun’s rays over the Earth’s equator. This angle varies year-round the planet’s 23.4-degree tilt about its axis.
The other factor affecting the date of Tampa’s earliest sunset is our day length. Did you know that a real solar day is not exactly 24 hours long? The length of a solar day varies throughout the year because of the planet’s elliptical path around the sun. A solar day is longer than 24 hours during the winter and summer solstices and shorter than 24 hours during the spring and autumn night equines. This means that the solar afternoon and the clock afternoon do not connect all year round.
As a result, the earliest sunset occurs before the winter solstice and the last sunrise after the winter solstice.