Understanding and Managing Daylight Saving Time in the U.S.

Understanding and Managing Daylight Saving Time in the U.S.

Time is an arrow that points forward, not the ceaselessly repeating cycle of 24 hours that your clock represents.

What most do not know is that time is a quite recent invention. Time, as we know it today, exists from October 1884, when the International Meridian Congress happened in Washington. Before that, time was calculated based on local noon.

This made it impossible to run trains on time. 9:15 A.M. at Ipswich meant 8:57 A.M. at Plymouth.

If that was the difference on a small island, it is easy to imagine the problems railroads in the U.S. and continental Europe faced.

A unified time plan meant that Greenwich Mean Time (GMT), or Universal Time Coordinated (UTC) as it is known now, was 0 hours. Places west of it were behind in time, and those located east of it ahead.

No matter who you are and where you live, your life is dictated by a timetable that is decided by the meridian of longitude.

Time Zones in the USA

The time in the USA is between -5 and -8 UTC.

They are in all four time zones: EST, CST, MST, and PST, each being a step back by an hour of the one east of it (UTC -5, -6, -7, and -8).

When it is 12:00 P.M. in Greenwich, clocks in New York and Miami display 7:00 A.M. (12 – 5). At this same times, clocks in Los Angeles and Seattle display 4:00 A.M.

What is DST?

Unified time zones gave rise to another problem. How do you ensure maximum use of daylight? It is not a problem in tropical nations where extensive daylight is available, but as you move north (or south) of the equator, the amount of daylight is less and less in winter.

Daylight Saving Time, or DST as it is known, was the brainchild of New Zealand-born scientist George Hudson. The idea had been floated by Benjamin Franklin a century earlier.

It is a system to move clocks forward in spring, and back in autumn.

Note that DST is not restricted to the U.S. alone. Canada, England, and E.U. nations also use the system. In the southern hemisphere, Australia and New Zealand follow DST rules as well.

However, the yearly date on which it becomes effective differs between nations.

We will restrict this discussion to DST in the U.S.

How Does It Work?

DST in the U.S. can be summarized by one phrase “spring forward, fall back.”

This change happens twice a year.

The clock skips an hour forward on the second Sunday of March, and the clock moves back to the actual time on the first Sunday of November.

If you are wearing a wristwatch, you have to adjust it manually. If you are using a digital device, like a laptop, it self-adjusts.

The change becomes effective at 2:00 A.M., so that it causes the least inconvenience.

Hawaii and Arizona do not follow DST.

Effect of DST

Surprisingly enough, DST in the U.S. is most visible to those outside the U.S.

Those in Dubai and Delhi, for example, find U.S. news programs such as CNN’s Anderson Cooper 360° moving back and forth on cable as the earth goes around the sun.

Offshore sectors have to adjust their shift by an hour if they are based out of Manila or Bangalore.

If you are in the USA, you will find the night is an hour shorter when the clock skips forward. Since it always happens on Saturday-Sunday night, you can snooze in bed for an extra hour. 

What’s the Point?

There is no indication that DST helps anyone in the era of LED lights.

A study by the National Bureau of Economic Research found that it increases electricity use at homes by one percent. That is quite a lot if you consider there are 128 million households nationwide.

Another study by the U.S. Department of Transportation found it decreased overall consumption of electricity by one percent.

Conflicting data abounds, and there is no surety if DST actually benefits the U.S. in any way.

How to Adjust to It?

Though there is no official restriction, we would advise you not to do the following out of an abundance of caution:

  • Do not use credit cards – Though modern operating systems are quite adept at considering DST changes, it is impossible to know if tiny software patches have somehow disabled the system. Do not risk being charged twice for the same product. After all, it is the middle of the night, and most people do not need to use a card unless it is for an emergency.
  • Do not travel – If you are going to board a flight, you have to keep in mind the local time of your destination and any connecting flight. To avoid complications, do not travel during those few hours, two nights of the year. If you have to travel, ensure you have boarded the flight before DST changes, or wait until sunrise the next day.

The DST dates are advertised well in advance.

All that you have to do to let it not affect you is to do nothing. From 11:00 P.M. to 6:00 A.M. of that particular night (both in spring and fall), stay home and relax.

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