As a weather enthusiast with years of experience, I’m here to debunk some common misconceptions about when the hottest and coldest moments of the day occur. It’s a topic rife with theories, and it’s not uncommon for incorrect information to circulate. So, let’s dive into the intricacies of daily temperature spikes and when you can expect to feel them.

Misconceptions and Reality

Contrary to popular belief, the hottest point of the day isn’t early in the morning or at noon when the sun is high in the sky. Similarly, the coldest moment isn’t necessarily in the early morning hours. In truth, both these points occur later in the day, and there is only a short interval between the two.

The Role of Location and Season

The hottest or coldest moment largely depends on your geographical location and the current season. The heat and light from the sun take time to reach the Earth, and the planet’s shape also influences how near or far you are from the sun’s rays. This principle applies to temperature variations as well.

Solar Noon

When the sun reaches its zenith, we’re at what we call ‘solar noon’. This is the moment when the sun’s light and heat are most concentrated on the Earth. According to David Finfrock, a weather reporter at NBC 5, being outdoors during solar noon without proper protection can lead to severe sunburn, even with short exposure. However, the sun’s highest radiation levels at this time don’t always translate to the highest temperature.

The Diurnal Cycle

The diurnal cycle refers to the Earth’s rotation on its axis, causing day and night. This rotation contributes to temperature variations across different parts of the Earth’s surface. The delay between solar noon and the noticeable rise in temperature, known as the thermal response, can run from three to four hours.

Thermal Response and Hottest Time of Day

The thermal response begins at solar noon when the Earth’s surface starts to heat up. This increase continues as long as the sun radiates enough heat that reaches the Earth. It takes about three hours for this process to become noticeable.

This understanding leads us to infer that the hottest point of the day falls between 3 and 4:30 PM during summer. However, this can vary based on cloud coverage and wind speed.

Other Factors

Several factors determine the day’s hottest point. For instance, if you live in a region that observes daylight saving time, you may experience the day’s peak heat an hour earlier or later than the rest of the world, depending on the season.

Similarly, seasonal climate changes can impact this timing. During winter, cold temperatures lower the overall daytime heat. In this season, the day’s hottest time shifts to early morning, while the coldest period is later in the afternoon.

brown wooden bench beside leafless tree during golden hour

The Real Hottest Time of the Day

Contrary to popular belief, the day’s hottest point isn’t at noon but falls between 3 and 4 PM. The delay in thermal response means that even though the sun peaks at noon and emits the most radiation and heat, the Earth’s surface continues to heat up as long as it’s still receiving radiation from the sun.

Consequently, the temperature keeps rising until the solar radiation weakens enough for the Earth to release some of the accumulated heat back into the atmosphere. It’s around 3 or 4 PM when the built-up heat on the Earth’s surface can be felt the most.

When Does the Lowest Temperature Happen?

Contrary to what we might expect, the coldest time of the day isn’t deep into the night but just before sunrise.

The Coldest Time of the Day

Counter to most assumptions, the day’s coldest point actually falls in the early morning, just after sunrise.

Why Does It Happen After Sunrise?

Following the day’s hottest point, around 3 to 4 PM, the Earth begins to release the accumulated heat at a much quicker pace as solar radiation decreases with sunset. The Earth’s surface continues to cool down throughout the night. Shortly after sunrise, while the sun begins to emit solar radiation and provide heat again, it’s not potent enough to outweigh the rate at which the Earth’s surface is cooling and emitting heat into the atmosphere.

When the Earth loses heat faster than it absorbs it, that’s when the day hits its coldest point. This generally happens shortly after sunrise. However, the exact timing can vary based on atmospheric conditions, geographic location, and the current season.

At other times, the Earth may reach its coldest temperature at a point in the day that’s a few hours after the hottest moment. This is when the Earth is losing heat quickly, and the sun’s solar radiation isn’t sufficient to keep the surface warm.

trees under cloudy sky during sunset

Understanding the Thermal Response and Solar Radiation

Understanding thermal response and solar radiation is crucial to debunking misconceptions about the hottest and coldest times of the day. Many people would naturally assume that the hottest moment is when the sun is at its zenith, and the coldest is late in the evening when there’s no sunlight.

However, due to thermal energy dynamics, the sun’s heat doesn’t cause an instantaneous change in the Earth’s temperature. Similarly, the coldest point of the day occurs just before the Earth starts warming up again, which is sometime after sunrise. In some instances, the coldest point can be just a couple of hours after the day’s hottest moment.


There’s no definitive time for when the Earth is at its hottest or coldest. Numerous factors, including the laws of thermodynamics, geographic location, unpredictable weather patterns, and more, contribute to the heating and cooling of the Earth’s surface. To estimate these times, one has to consider a wide array of variables.

In the end, understanding the mechanisms of thermal response and solar radiation can give us a better grasp of when these temperature peaks occur. It’s about recognizing that it takes time for the Earth to respond to the sun’s heat and that the day’s temperature doesn’t simply follow the sun’s position in the sky. By understanding these principles, we can better predict and prepare for the day’s potential hot and cold moments.