Dusk arrives early these days – and it’s about to arrive even earlier after daylight saving time ends this Sunday. On Nov. 6, at 2 a.m., the clocks “fall back” an hour and we return to standard time. It’s the biannual clock-changing ritual that never fails to stir passionate debate.
The time change means we get an extra hour of sleep, which none of us can complain about. But it comes at the expense of evening light for outdoor activities, as the sun will set an hour earlier.
On the other hand, if you’re an early riser, your morning commute will be noticeably brighter for the next several weeks. With DST ending nearly a week later than usual this year, sunrise has been getting pretty late these days — in some places after 8 a.m.
In Washington, D.C., sunrise is at 7:40 a.m. on Nov. 5, before DST ends. That’s 17 minutes later than sunrise on the winter solstice — the shortest day of the year — when we’re on standard time.
If you dislike getting up in the dark, the good news is that it doesn’t get any worse than this week: In most of the United States (apart from Alaska and the far northern tier) the latest sunrise of the year happens Nov. 5 — before daylight saving time ends. That’s because with less than seven weeks to go until the winter solstice, sunrise won’t fully “catch up” to where it was before we set the clocks back. Between now and late December, most cities lose an additional 40 to 50 minutes of morning light. The exact amount depends on your latitude, or distance from the equator. Either way, it won’t quite be a full hour (as shown in the table above).
Of course, if you’re not an early riser, the most noticeable impact of DST ending is even earlier sunsets — about 5 p.m. or earlier in many major cities:
In D.C., sunset will be at 5:02 p.m. on Sunday. That’s half an hour later than in Boston, but early compared to places such as Atlanta and Indianapolis, located near the western boundary of their time zone.
A silver lining: After we switch the clocks back, sunset won’t creep a whole lot earlier. Between now and mid-December, most parts of the Lower 48 lose only about 10 to 20 more minutes of evening light (northern cities more, southern less). So once we get used to midnight-level darkness before the dinner hour, at least it doesn’t get a whole lot worse!
Whether you’re for or against daylight saving time (last year I argued for keeping it year-round), there’s only so much we can do to maximize daylight during the darkest months of the year. Winter is still several weeks away, but according to ancient Celtic tradition, which defined seasons by daylight and incoming solar energy, winter has already begun. November marks the start of the darkest quarter of the year in Earth’s northern hemisphere.
Of course, it’s hard to think about winter with record November warmth visiting D.C. and the central United States this week. But as daylight saving time ends, those early 5 p.m. sunsets mean winter will be here soon enough.