Monday, 02 November 2009


Saving daylight: What time is it?

This past weekend, most of us in the United States[1] engaged in the biannual ritual of adjusting our clocks, this time to accommodate the end of daylight savings time.  Of course DST doesn’t actually save any daylight, it just moves it around a little.  Here in Indianapolis our sunrise moved from shortly after 8am to shortly after 7, while this evening’s sunset will be at a-quarter-to-six.  One might ask if all the clock-adjusting is worth it?

Congress seems to think so.  In fact, as is the case with many of the nostrums advocated by our Washington solons, their opinion appears to be “if a little is good, then even more will be better.”  Twice in the last 50 years, in the name of “conserving energy,” Congress extended the daylight time period: First during the 1970s energy “crisis,” when it set the 1974 starting date at January 6th and the 1975 starting date February 23rd, and again with 2005’s Energy Policy Act, which (effective 2007) both advanced the starting day (moved to the second Sunday in March from the last Sunday in April), and delayed the ending day (previously, the last Sunday in October, delayed until the first Sunday in November ).  Under this current regime, we are now “saving daylight” for 238 of the year’s 365 days.

The question of “What time is it?” has long been a bone of contention in Indiana.  Logically, the division between the eastern and central time zones should fall at about 85° longitude, close to the state’s eastern border.  But the cities of Indianapolis, South Bend, and Fort Wayne have always looked eastward (out of commercial ties and aspirations of becoming “major metros”), while the corners near Chicago and Cincinnati, along with the southwestern counties around Evansville, prefer to align their time with the adjacent states.  In 1918, Congress placed Indiana in the Central time zone, but over time the boundary crept westward, accompanied by legislative action, court cases, popular uproar, and civil disobedience.[2]  The federal Uniform Time Act of 1966, which (again) attempted to put the entire state in one time zone, only reignited the confusion.  Finally, in the late 60s, an informal compromise was reached which put the state’s northwest and southwest corners in the Central zone, observing daylight time, and set the rest of the state’s clocks to Eastern time, but with no daylight savings.[3]  This arrangement was finally ratified by the state legislature (over the governor’s veto) and the U.S. Congress in 1966.

Why no daylight time?  Aside from stubbornness and distrust on the part of the citizenry, the part of the state that observed eastern time could be thought of as already being on daylight time- all year around (when compared to the 1918 division)[4].  And there was some truth in this: In Indianapolis, Eastern Standard time means sunsets as late as 8:20pm, with civil twilight[5] continuing until almost 9:00.  Entertainment interests, specifically the Theater Owners of Indiana, lobbied the legislature against daylight time (with daylight-savings sunsets as late as 9:20, drive-ins would have been unable to start their programs until shortly before 10pm).  They were joined by the farmers, who, operating by the sun, saw no reason to move their clocks back and forth.  Others were less satisfied.[6]

The 1966 compromise held- mostly- until 2005, when Governor Mitch Daniels, spurred by businesses complaining that their customers “could never tell what time we’re on,” re-opened the can of worms by including a statewide daylight time provision in an economic development package.  This time it passed, and Indiana has observed daylight time throughout the state since 2006, although with some jockeying of the boundary between Eastern and Central.
Indiana’s time zones today
Next: Now what?

Elsewhere:  Indiana’s Time Zones and Daylight Savings Time
Wikipedia article:  Time in Indiana  What Time Is It in Indiana?
U.S. Naval Observatory:  Daylight Time

[1]  except for “parts of the state of Arizona, and the state of Hawaii”

[2] The author recalls the year 1961: After the legislature had (again) thrown up its hands at trying to sort things out, the (federal) Interstate Commerce Commission attempted to impose a boundary.  In Indianapolis, which the commission put in the Central zone, government agencies and schools set their clocks to the “official” time (as did Weir Cook Airport, where clocks were labeled “Official Airline Time”), but most businesses ant the public ignored it and operated on Eastern Standard.

[3]  The counties near Cincinnati got “a wink and a nod” allowing them to “informally” set their clocks to match Ohio.

[4]  Talk about forward-looking by being behind!  “I wish it went year-round.” - Glenn Reynolds

[5]  “...The limit at which twilight illumination is sufficient, under good weather conditions, for terrestrial objects to be clearly distinguished; at the beginning of morning civil twilight, or end of evening civil twilight, the horizon is clearly defined and the brightest stars are visible under good atmospheric conditions in the absence of moonlight or other illumination.  In the morning before the beginning of civil twilight and in the evening after the end of civil twilight, artificial illumination is normally required to carry on ordinary outdoor activities” - source

[6]  Television broadcasters, for one.  If the state didn’t observe daylight time, they faced the problem of what to do when the rest of the country switched, because during the daylight time period, the entire network schedule would (effectively) be moved ahead by one hour.  That would put the 6pm local news at 5pm (when most of the audience was just getting off from work), and Johnny Carson on an hour early, at 10:30.  Most of the stations eventually “solved” the problem by allowing the daytime shows to move, but delaying prime time programs locally (except for live events such as baseball games).  I do recall, however, at least one year when some of the Indianapolis network affiliates elected to run the evening programs as received, which made their schedules out of “sync” with the others.  Putting all those operating hours on their then-standard quadruplex video tape machines was expensive, so in 1968 the broadcasters filed suit in an attempt to force the ICC to require daylight time.  They lost.

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