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Posted at 10:33 AM ET, 11/04/2011

Daylight saving time ends this Sunday: get out and enjoy the sun an hour earlier


Washington, D.C.’s sunrise and sunset times in the coming weeks (Source: U.S. Naval Observatory and timeanddate.com)
It’s that time of year again. As we prepare to move our clocks back this weekend, the biannual time shift never fails to stir up debate over the advantages and disadvantages of daylight saving time. And although the weather doesn’t operate on a daylight saving schedule, our daily routines certainly do.

This year daylight saving time (DST) ends at 2 a.m. on Sunday, November 6, which means we move our clocks back one hour and return to standard time. The good news is we get a 25-hour day (and an extra hour of sleep). The bad news: it will get dark even earlier in the evening.

With sunrise in the D.C. metro area at 7:39 a.m. Saturday (the latest sunrise of the year), early risers will be pleased to see daybreak shift back to 6:41 a.m. this Sunday. The downside is that sunset falls back to 5:03 p.m., so get ready for a dark commute home and candles on the dinner table.

Ever wonder how this clock-changing tradition came about? Keep reading to find out…

History

The concept of advancing our clocks during the summer months originated over a century ago (some even credit Benjamin Franklin for the idea). First implemented in Germany and Britain in 1916, daylight saving time was considered a means to conserve energy during World War I. The United States began using DST in 1918, but abandoned the policy after it proved unpopular.

During World War II, the U.S. observed year-round DST from February 1942 until September 1945. Following the war, states and local governments had a confusing patchwork of DST schedules, which made it difficult to coordinate broadcasting and transportation schedules. Not until 1966 did Congress pass the Uniform Time Act, which mandated that all states opting to observe DST move their clocks forward one hour on the last Sunday in April and back on the last Sunday in October. With the exception of an extended DST schedule 1974-1975 (due to the oil embargo), this schedule remained in place until 1987, when the DST start date was pushed up to the first Sunday in April.

For twenty years, we shifted our clocks forward in early April and back again in October. The Energy Policy Act of 2005, however, extended DST by another four weeks, which began in 2007. This means we now “spring ahead” on the second Sunday in March and “fall back” on the first Sunday in November.

Pros and Cons

Daylight saving time has been controversial for as long as it has existed. Opponents say that the clock change does not save energy, disrupts sleep schedules, and poses other health risks. Cities in the western edges of time zones have to contend with dark mornings for most of the year, creating potential safety hazards for early commuters and schoolchildren. Supporters, on the other hand, argue that more evening daylight not only saves energy, but also boosts tourism and the economy.

Personally, I’m a fan of daylight saving time – and much prefer extra daylight in the evenings at the expense of additional morning darkness. While there may be less benefit to DST at this time of year when the days are already short, I can’t imagine why anyone would prefer seeing the sun rise before 5 a.m. with darkness falling before 8 p.m. in the middle of summer. If Benjamin Franklin thought the idea made sense, it’s probably not a bad idea. Besides, with over seventy countries observing some form of daylight saving time, we are in good company. So let’s enjoy the clock shifting confusion together, shall we?

Some sample reactions to the prospects of the sun setting around the end of the work day by our followers on Twitter and Facebook.

Sources and related reading:

timeanddate.com
Daylight saving time: history, rationale and more
Map of countries using daylight saving time
Daylight saving changes time, not weather (CWG)
An extra hour of sleep! Unless the kid spoils it (CWG)

By  |  10:33 AM ET, 11/04/2011

Categories:  Astronomy, Latest

 
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