Weather Watch

Daylight saving time: a bright idea?

The USS McCandless on the Atlantic Ocean near the Azores Islands at sunset. The photo was taken from a Navy helicopter.
The USS McCandless on the Atlantic Ocean near the Azores Islands at sunset. The photo was taken from a Navy helicopter.

Growing up, I never thought much about daylight saving time.

Then I enlisted in the Navy.

On my first long cruise in the early 1980s, we left Charleston, S.C., on the USS McCandless, a Knox-class frigate, and headed east across the Atlantic Ocean toward the Mediterranean Sea.

As we sailed across the Atlantic, the ship moved through one time zone after another. At each new time zone, the ship’s clock was forwarded one hour at 2 a.m., and the crew lost one hour of sleep. In a naïve and karmic sort of way, I thought six months later when we headed back toward the United States we would gain one hour of sleep with each passing time zone. To my astonishment on our return voyage, the ship’s clock was turned back one hour at noon, which allowed the ship’s crew to perform an extra hour of work. Oh well — so much for sleeping in.

Unlike that Knox-class frigate, California will spring forward one hour March 13 at 2 a.m., when we shift from Pacific Standard Time to Pacific Daylight Time, which will result in the loss of one hour of sleep for many of us. This may lead to the question of when daylight saving time began and how it’s changed over the decades.

The first references to it that I could find traced back to our country’s first meteorologist, Ben Franklin. Not only did he discover electricity, but he also served as U.S. ambassador to France. While living in Paris, he thought about the early sunrises of summer and the energy resources, like fuel for lamps, that could be saved if people simply rose an hour earlier.

During World War II, the United States adopted daylight saving time to reduce our country’s dependence on artificial light, thereby saving other energy sources for the war effort. Between 1942 and 1945, daylight saving time was observed year-round. In 1966, the federal government passed the Uniform Time Act, so states all used the same dates for daylight saving time, ending the confusion from locally set rules. The federal government again put the country on year-round daylight saving time for 15 months in 1974 and 1975 to save energy during the Arab oil embargo.

States and territories historically have been able to exempt themselves from daylight saving time, which Hawaii and Arizona have done (although the Navajo Nation in Arizona does observe the time change).

Today, daylight saving time begins the second Sunday of March and ends on the first Sunday of November.

Some people may wonder, does the time change affect our health? Some studies have indicated an increased rate of accidents when we spring forward one hour during spring, because of lack of sleep and the interruption of our circadian cycles. However, other studies have shown an improvement in health because of a greater amount of outdoor activities with the later sunsets.

Believe it or not, there are some groups that advocate for extreme daylight saving. Basically, they would stay on daylight saving time throughout the year and actually move the clocks forward another hour during the summer months to have more daylight hours for work.

As far as weather forecasting is concerned, most of the atmospheric and oceanographic instrumentation stays on standard time year-round. When you think about it, you just can’t have databases gaining one hour of data during the fall and losing one hour of data during the spring.

So at the end of the day, some people like daylight saving time, and others don’t. My former colleague and computer and instrumentation expert Einar Anderson remains on standard time year-round. On March 13, I’ll be frantically looking at my car’s owner manual, trying to figure out how to move its clock one hour forward.

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California and PG&E continue to set the pace as national leaders in clean energy and greenhouse gas reductions. State goals called for an average of 23.3 percent Renewables Portfolio Standard between 2014 and 2016. PG&E far surpassed that target, serving 29.5 percent of its retail electricity sales with renewable power in 2015. Additionally, PG&E is well ahead of schedule in meeting the state’s 33 percent target by 2020.

John Lindsey’s column is special to The Tribune. He is PG&E’s Diablo Canyon marine meteorologist and a media relations representative. Email him at pgeweather@pge.com or follow him @PGE_John.

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