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An Indian summer is a heat wave that occurs in the autumn. It refers to a period of above-normal temperatures, accompanied by dry and hazy conditions, usually after there has been a killing frost. Depending on latitude and elevation, it can occur in the Northern Hemisphere between late September and mid November, though the term is used as widely as early September through January. The term is applied to any heat wave, though it is also used for a purported singularity (periodic pattern).
An Indian summer is a period of unseasonably warm, dry weather, occurring after the end of summer proper. The US National Weather Service defines this as weather conditions that are sunny and clear with temperatures above 21 °C (70 °F), following a sharp frost (the "Squaw Winter"). It is normally associated with late-September to mid-November. There are multiple explanations for the name. The North American Indians—native Americans—depended upon periods of fine, quiet, sunny weather at this time of the year to complete their harvest to see them through the winter.
In the desert southwestern United States, where frost is rare, the term is sometimes used to refer to a brief period of hot dry weather which occurs after the hottest months and before the onset of winter cool and/or rain, typically in October or November. It may also be used to refer to any unseasonably warm weather during the first few weeks of the rainy season, before the approach of spring. In the Pacific Northwest, the term can be used to describe a period of warm, dry weather after the first fall rains have occurred. In some regions of the southwestern United States, Indian summer is used colloquially to describe very different weather phenomena, including the hottest times of the year, typically in late July or August.
A late-19th Century Boston lexicographer named Albert Matthews made an exhaustive search of early American literature in an attempt to discover who coined the expression. The first reference he found dated from 1778, but from the context it was clearly already in widespread use.
A famous use of the phrase in American literature is the title of Van Wyck Brooks' New England: Indian Summer (1940), chosen to suggest inconsistency, infertility, and depleted capabilities, a period of seemingly robust strength that is only an imitation of an earlier season of actual strength.
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In British English the term Indian summer is today used loosely for a period of unseasonable warmth and sunshine in late September, October, or November. In the UK, observers knew of the American usage from the mid-19th Century onwards, and The Indian Summer of a Forsyte is the metaphorical title of the 1918 second volume of The Forsyte Saga by John Galsworthy. 20th Century climatologists including Gordon Manley and Hubert Lamb used it only when referring to the American phenomenon, and the expression did not gain wide currency in Britain until the 1950s.
The term may also refer to the weather patterns in the Indian Ocean, where ships' hulls were marked "I.S." to indicate the level at which they should be loaded during that season.
In former times such a period was called Saint Martin's Summer, referring to St. Martin's day, November 11. An alternative was Saint Luke's summer, as the feast of St Luke falls on 18 October. In Welsh, it is known as Haf Bach Mihangel or "Michael's Little Summer", as Michaelmas, the feast of Saint Michael the Archangel, is on September 29th. The term Old Wives' Summer was also in former use.
Shakespeare used the expression "All-Hallowe'en Summer" in Henry IV: ("Farewell, thou latter spring; farewell, All-hallown summer!” Henry IV part 1, act I, scene 2). "All Hallows'" or All Saints' Day, falls on November 1.
In Italy, St Martin's summer, Estate di San Martino, is expected and celebrated as a rural tradition with ancient origins and is marked by a festival on November 11.
In Spain, an unseasonable spell of warm weather in autumn is called Veranillo de San Miguel or Veranillo de San Martín, depending when it occurs. It can also be called Veranillo del Membrillo (little summer of the quince). Other regions use the same term in their own language, Veraninho de San Martinho in Galicia.
In Sweden it is called "brittsommar", which is derived from Birgitta and Britta, who have their name day in the Swedish calendar on October 7, when Britt Mass, an official fall open-air market, was held.
In the Netherlands and Flanders (Belgium) the term "Nazomer" ("late summer") is used, although it is sometimes called "Oudewijvenzomer" (old wives' summer) or "sint-michielszomer" ("St. Michael's Summer"). It can also be called "Trezekeszomer" ("St-Theresa's Summer – St-Theresa's Day" being on October 15).
In many Slavic-speaking countries, the season is called Old Ladies' Summer: in Russia Babye Leto (Бабье лето), in Poland Babie Lato, in Ukraine Babyne Lito (Бабине літо), in Czech Republic Babí léto, in Slovakia Babie leto, in Croatia Bablje ljeto and in Slovenia Babje leto. In Bulgaria, the phenomenon is sometimes called "Gypsy Summer" (Bulgarian: циганско лято, tsigansko lyato) and in some places "Gypsy Christmas" and refers to unseasonably warm weather in late fall, or a warm spell in between cold periods. In Serbia it is called Miholjsko leto (Serbian: Михољско лето) by the name of the orthodox saint from the 6th century Kiriak Otshelnik (Serbian: Свети Киријак Отшелник) known as well as Saint Miholj who is celebrated each year on the same day named by him as Miholjdan – October 12. The warm period usually surrounds this date.
In Hungary, it's "vénasszonyok nyára" (Old Ladies' Summer or Crone's Summer) because the many white spiders seen at this time of the year have been associated with the norns of Norse folklore or medieval witches.
In Lithuania this time is called "Bobų vasara", "summer of old ladies".
In Latvia this period is called "Atvasara", meaning "re-summer" or "return/repeat/flashback of summer".
In Finland an unseasonably warm period in the autumn is called "intiaanikesä" (Indian summer) or "akkainkesä" (old ladies' summer).
Equivalent phrases and variations
In China, this period is called "qiū lǎohǔ" (秋老虎), which literally means 'autumn tiger'. In Chinese, it signifies the revival of often fierce, summer-like heat that persists well past the Beginning of Autumn (the 13th seasonal division point according to the Chinese calendar, usually falling on August 7 or 8). This hot weather may persist until well into October or November in the southern regions.
In the south of Brazil, a similar phenomenon is called "veranico de maio", a regional term roughly meaning "little summer of May", representing a short span of hot weather that occurs mid-autumn.
Indian Summer can occur in Australia during the months of April and May, when in Sydney week-long stretches of above average, warm temperatures can occur.
- Deedler, William (Fall 1996). "Just What Is Indian Summer And Did Indians Really Have Anything To Do With It?". National Weather Service Detroit office.
- Commager, Henry Steele (August 18, 1940). "IN New England's Lesser Days". New York Times. Retrieved October 6, 2012.
- Zubaida, Sami & Tapper, Richard. A Taste of Thyme. I.B. Tauris & Co. Ltd, 1994, p. 35 & 39.
- BBC Website : Indian Summer - Exactly What Is It?
- Indian Summer Article – National Weather Service
- A close look at Indian summer, USA Today
- Babye Leto – what does it mean?
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