Winter is staging a comeback in the eastern United States this weekend, but that won’t stop the clocks from “springing forward” an hour with the return of daylight saving time.
At 2 a.m. Sunday (March 12), the clocks move ahead one hour and we leave standard time behind. While the time shift costs us an hour of sleep, evenings will be noticeably brighter again — reminding us that the long, bright days of spring are just around the corner.
After the time switch, the sun will set around 7 p.m. or later in most parts of the country. For many, the later sunset means no more commuting home in the dark, and enough daylight for a round of golf or an evening run in the park.
Here in Washington, D.C., sunset will shift from 6:11 p.m. to 7:12 p.m. after DST begins on Sunday:
Cities straddling the western edge of time zones will enjoy the latest sunsets — for example, Atlanta or Indianapolis — but they’ll also have to contend with especially dark mornings these next few weeks. In Indianapolis, Sunday’s sunrise isn’t until 8 a.m.!
One of the biggest arguments against daylight saving time — besides disrupting your sleep schedule — is the reduction in morning light after moving the clocks ahead. Some argue that DST puts children’s safety at risk since they have to go to school in the dark.
While it’s true that daylight saving time steals light from the morning, many people forget that the sun will continue to rise earlier for the next three months. The arrival of spring means daylight is now increasing at its most rapid pace of the year, which means that by mid-April, sunrise will have “caught up” to where it was before DST begins.
In Washington, D.C., sunrise shifts from 6:25 a.m. to 7:23 a.m. after we “spring forward.” By April 19, sunrise will again be at 6:25 a.m., as shown in the chart below:
The higher a city’s latitude, the more quickly sunrise “catches up” to the same time as it occurred before DST began. Interestingly, the dark mornings that result from daylight saving time are more pronounced in the southern tier, where daylight changes more slowly throughout the year. In Miami, for example, it takes until mid-May for sunrise to return to the same time it occurred before the time change.
Switching the clocks continually reignites debate about the purpose and benefits of daylight saving time, but it’s easy to forget that doing so helps redistribute daylight to more useful hours of the day. If we were to scrap DST entirely and stay on standard time all year, it would already be getting light around 5 a.m. in late April and, in many places, as early as 4 a.m. come June.
Of course, whether you love or hate daylight saving time may depend on where you live. More evening light is welcomed if you live in the eastern part of a time zone (such as Massachusetts or Maine). At the western edge of a time zone (Indiana or Michigan), daylight saving time robs residents of already scarce morning daylight.
As long as DST remains in use, the century-old practice will continue to have its supporters and detractors. No one likes losing an hour of precious time and sleep, but it’s a price worth paying for that extra hour of evening sunshine.