Daylight saving time not an extra hour

Ray Mueller, Correspondent

Over the years, I've been astonished by the misnomers I've heard on radio and television and read in print about Daylight Saving Time (DST), which begins again on Sunday morning. I'd like to assign those misnomers to the realm of “alternative facts” that we've been hearing about in another context.

A proposal about eliminating DST in Wisconsin by a couple of state legislators called attention to the topic again. Unfortunately, a news service story prompted by that proposal and published in numerous daily newspapers reinforced the false beliefs by using the misleading wording.

No extra hour

There's a widespread belief that the institution of DST adds an hour to the amount of time that, at any particular location, the sun is over the Earth's horizon on a given day and that it takes an hour away when the year's DST ends. If that's true, why not go for two, three or even four more hours of daylight?

The fact is that whether DST is in effect of not makes no difference on the hours of sunlight on any particular day at the location. The only thing that's changed is the numbers on the humanly created clock that mark the times of sunrise and sunset.

It's probable that the false beliefs about the gaining or loss of an hour gained some level of credibility because the start and end of the DST period coincides quite closely with the highest daily gains and losses of sunlight during the year.

False public beliefs

In the recent news service story that I referred to, the legislators received reactions such as 

“Don't take away my hour of sunlight.” Well, the length of sunlight on given day is the same regardless of whether DST is in place or not.

That story included a misleading statement that clocks are moved “ahead an hour to make the sun set later and create an extra hour at the end of the day.” What would anyone who doesn't know any better be led to believe?

Similarly, setting the clock back one hour “makes the sun set an hour earlier,” that story suggested. If it were only that easy.

In explaining the supposed effect of discarding DST in Wisconsin, the story indicated this “would mean the sun would set an hour earlier in the summer.” At face value, that's true but it doesn't affect the amount of sunlight in a 24-hour period.

Alternative proposals

Maybe the solution to this apparently widespread misnomer is to renumber the hours in a 24-hour period. The military did this long ago with its introduction of the 0100 to 2400 hours.

With the negative feedback that the legislators received on their proposal, they temporarily reversed course and considered extending DST year-round – an idea they've also since dropped. Perhaps they realized with the use of the same numbering system on the clock it would still be dark until about 8:30 a.m. (DST) on many days in November and January and on all days in December.

If DST is to be reconsidered (it was approved in Wisconsin by a voter referendum which was widely opposed by farmers), the effects should be based on reality, not “alternative facts.”