Growing up in Ocean City, I learned to call September a name you don’t hear much outside of resort towns: Shoulder season.

That’s when people still come to the beach for a splash, but the numbers drop and the rates go down because the calendar is changing. If anyone still uses the phrase today, it might better apply to October.

That’s because September has always been a difficult month to identify with one season. Is it summer or fall? The beginning or the end?

I’ll always think of it as summer extended in Annapolis, filled with warm days and cool nights. It has the potential for shining afternoons with a comforting drink and dark nights of dangerous rains with flooding and power outages.

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If you’re a meteorologist, fall begins today, Sept. 1, and ends on Nov. 30. Science and data say it’s so. The season is set by calculating average temperatures, and September certainly trends cooler than the final, oppressive heat of August.

You could argue that because the climate is warming, September is more a summer month today than in my childhood. The average daytime temperature is 81 degrees, according to National Weather Service records.

But September has been warmer than average six out of the last 10 years, and September 2018 was the hottest on record in more than 100 years. On Friday, the forecast called for sunny and a high of 78, about on target with the averages. But there are seven days in the 10-day forecast predicted to be above 85, and Monday might hit 99.

That, if you’re a high school boy in Annapolis, is plenty of reason to continue wearing the uniform of summer — shorts, a T-shirt and flip-flops.

Clothing is always a waving flag, demarking the boundary line of a season’s change.

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Outwardly September is a summer month, when the lightest thing you own still feels right. But inside, there’s a change brewing. You can feel the itch on Saturday mornings as long pants call to you from their exile in a bottom drawer or your favorite sweater speaks up from the closet to remind you of how nice it feels to be cozy in knit.

Annapolis gets one of its annual moments of fame each March when people burn their socks. It’s a look tied to boating and isn’t universal, but still, it’s the closest thing the city has to a fashion statement all its own.

There’s no equivalent for the fall — no traditional donning of the socks. That’s a shame. It would be a September spectacle worth seeing, with hundreds of people at City Dock all pulling on socks at the same time.

If you have a sense of romance about the universe, summer ends on the autumnal equinox.

That’s when the sun crosses the equator from north to south and the 24-hour day is divided into equal parts light and dark. In Annapolis, that will be at 2:50 a.m. on Sept. 23.

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The month is filled with light, even if the equinox means it comes in daily decreasing amounts. The sun rose Friday at 6:34 a.m. and was to set at 7:36 p.m. By the end of the month, there will be 80 minutes less of sunlight each day.

Closer to the southern horizon, the slanting sun makes it pleasant to watch a September sunset. The temperature drops to a consistent 65 degrees all month, and dusk is when you start to think that maybe it is a fall month after all.

If you’re the parent of a school-age child, September is definitely a new season. The early signs are back-to-school sales and Maryland’s weeklong sales tax holiday on some of the stuff you need for class. It’s the time you spend your weekends on a soccer pitch, watching your diminutive strikers, wings and goalies figure out the game.

If you’re not a youth soccer fan, fall starts when the Orioles drop out of playoff contention and your attention turns to the Ravens, Commanders or Navy football.

In the past, the O’s early exit started our fall weeks before anyone else’s. It started on Aug. 10 five seasons ago, one of the earliest changes measured by baseball on record.

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If the team continues to be as dazzling as they are today, fall won’t arrive any sooner than Oct. 9 — the earliest the O’s could be knocked out of the playoffs assuming they clinch the AL East.

And if the World Series comes to Baltimore? Fall might not start until Nov. 4, the date of the final game in the best-of-seven series. Winning would be a Christmas come early, even if the daytime average is 62 degrees that week.

September is a month that starts with tomato sandwiches or vanilla ice cream covered with freshly sliced peaches. The scent of cantaloupe is still fresh on the hot air of a roadside produce stand.

Fall doesn’t start until those are supplanted on my plate by apples and goat cheese on toasted French bread, or pears slathered with local honey and sprinkled with walnuts.

Crabs are still on the menu, further proof that this is a summer month. September is peak time for Chesapeake Bay blues if you can find them among all the imports from the Gulf of Mexico. The season runs another three months, and now is the time that crabs put on bulk as they prepare for a winter’s sleep deep in the cold mud of the bay.

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Living at the end of the Annapolis Neck, the water and skies are a big part of every month for me. September is no different.

Summer lives as long as the hummingbirds nibble at my wife’s feeders outside our back window. The ospreys that make their nests along the creeks and rivers near our house still sing out on a warm morning.

Both will be gone by the third week of the month, migrating to winter grounds in Florida, Mexico and South America. It can’t be fall while they’re still here.

September is a wary month. It is a good time to keep an eye on the forecast as tropical storms and hurricanes roll over the East Coast.

This far north, we feel those monster storms in a heavy, flooding rain, and as storms get bigger and wetter on a warming planet that’s only going to get more dangerous. Two years ago, Ida dropped a month’s worth of rain in an hour over Annapolis.

The winds are dangerous, too. If you live near the water, you wait for a wind-driven surge to push the bay up again as it did in 2003, when Isabel caused so much devastation. Live inland, and you watch for a twister like the one Ida spawned.

Full of contradiction, September is. That makes it my favorite month, one that you can’t easily identify through averages or forecasts, almanacs or menus. You can only look forward to it coming, and miss it when it leaves.

Maybe September isn’t summer or fall, but a season unto itself.

rick.hutzell@thebaltimorebanner.com

Rick Hutzell is the Annapolis columnist for The Baltimore Banner. He writes about what's happening today, how we got here and where we're going next. The former editor of Capital Gazette, he led the newspaper to a Pulitzer Prize for coverage of the 2018 mass shooting in its newsroom.

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