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New time plan proposed

Take a look at your watch, your phone or a nearby clock.

Some devices may run a bit fast or slow, but if you adjust for errors, they likely agree about the current time. If you call people elsewhere within the same time zone, they will concur regarding the time.

It didn’t used to be like this. Historically, time was calibrated according to local solar noon, identified as the time when the sun reached its highest point in the sky. In the era before it was necessary to coordinate happenings (such as developing a railroad schedule or announcing the time for a radio broadcast) in variously placed locations, each city or town set its own clocks and residents followed the local standard. The U.S. time zones that are familiar to us today, were finalized and adopted in 1918.

Globally, time zones identify areas that share a standardized time based on a central spot within the region. For reasons of tradition and sailing history, the zones are identified by adding or subtracting hours from the time in Greenwich, England. Most, but not all, time zones adjust in whole-hour increments. Our Eastern Standard Time (EST), for example, subtracts five hours; Pacific Standard Time subtracts eight. Hong Kong Time adds eight hours. Australian Central Standard Time, one of several zones spanning that continent, adds nine and a half hours. Other places that use time offsets involving fractions of an hour include India, Newfoundland (Canada), and the Marquesas Islands (part of French Polynesia).

We’ve become so accustomed to standardized time zones it is easy to forget that noon on our clocks no longer aligns with the sun’s position. For example, let’s consider Friday, March 6. Here in Farmville the sun will reach its highest point, solar noon, at 12:24 p.m. EST. To our west in Lynchburg, solar noon will occur three minutes later at 12:27 p.m. To the east in Richmond, solar noon will occur at 12:20 p.m. Solar noon in Boston (Massachusetts) will occur at 11:55 a.m., in Miami (Florida) at 12:31 p.m., and in Atlanta (Georgia) at 12:48 p.m.

The annual switch to Daylight Saving Time adds an hour to the mismatch between local time and solar noon. When Eastern Daylight Time (EDT) begins Sunday, March 8, 2020, solar noon in Farmville won’t occur until 1:24 p.m.

Many myths persist regarding the practice of changing the time. One is the mistaken belief that the switch to Daylight Saving Time creates more hours of daylight. This misperception is understandable because the change occurs as the days actually are getting longer.

Let me explain. Last December, on the shortest day of the year, our area received just over nine and a half hours of sunlight (counting the hours between sunrise at 7:23 a.m. and sunset at 4:59 p.m.). Since then, our days have been growing longer by a few minutes every day. The spring equinox, which will fall on March 19 this year, marks the point in the year when the days and nights are equal (12 hours each). Our days will continue to get longer until the Summer Solstice, which falls this year on June 20. The Summer Solstice marks the longest day of the year, and Farmville will get about 14 hours of sunshine. After that, the days begin growing shorter, and the cycle will repeat.

By moving solar noon farther into the afternoon, Daylight Saving Time cuts an hour of daylight from the morning, and saves it for the evening.

On one hand, the switch opens opportunities for after-dinner outdoor recreation. On the other hand, students and others who need to get up at a specific time find that the change plunges their morning routines back into darkness.

Polls suggest that a majority of people dislike changing their clocks twice a year, but there is disagreement about which setting, standard or daylight saving, to maintain. Perhaps a compromise is in order. If we followed the example of time zones defined by half-hour increments, we could change our clocks by 30 minutes and then leave them at that setting year-round.

Is anyone else interested in proposing Eastern Stable Time?

Karen Bellenir has been writing for The Farmville Herald since 2009. Her book, Happy to Be Here: A Transplant Takes Root in Farmville, Virginia features a compilation of her columns. It is available from PierPress.com. You can contact Karen at kbellenir@PierPress.com.