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Don Paul: The good, the bad and the stupid of daylight saving time

Some of you have heard me ineffectually whine about DST every year, ad very nauseum.

Full disclosure: I have an intense dislike for daylight saving time, and so do most meteorologists. The issue for us weather people is straightforward: Models run an hour later. For those of us in broadcast meteorology (past tense for me at this time), that means less time to put together a forecast, especially for 10 and 11 p.m. weathercasts.

For 10 p.m. casts, which my last station didn’t have, DST puts the forecast on that newscast at a real disadvantage because a lot of the model output doesn’t run in time for a real update in the forecast. Careful observers may notice changes in the 11 p.m. forecast from conscientious meteorologists because the late evening model run sometimes has major changes from earlier runs. The 11 p.m. forecast is still at something of a disadvantage as well, because we have less time to ponder the new data.

Why can’t we simply set models to run on DST? That’s not doable. As with the military, models run on what’s now called universal time, keyed to the “prime meridian” in Greenwich, England. Fewer than half of the world’s nations observe DST. Few of those who use it agree on when DST starts and ends.

Weather models and upper air analyses are an international venture, and we can’t have some nations flipping on DST and others not flipping it on with data that goes around the world for forecasters, aviators and the like.  On DST, the difference between eastern time and universal time drops from five hours to four. We change; universal time doesn’t. That is the way of the weather world.

Now that I have this peeve out of the way, I will endeavor to be fair and balanced about the rest of the DST debate. (I’ll report; you decide.)

National Geographic has organized the pros and cons nicely, so they deserve much of the credit for organizing my chaotic thought process. (Speaking of chaos, nearly all of the United States observes DST, but most of Arizona doesn’t. Neither do Hawaii, American Samoa, Guam, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands; they ignore it, too.)

Here are some of the cons:

• The most immediate impact of DST is lost sleep. National Geographic cites one study that shows the average American worker loses 40 minutes of sleep and up to one hour the first night. That can create a bit of a national jet lag on the Sunday and Monday following. Sleep deprivation creates problems. Several studies show an increase in heart attacks on the following Monday of up to 25 percent. I know I’ll be thinking about this at the gym Monday, looking for excuses to go easy, no doubt.

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• Car accidents also go up about 17 percent in the days following the time shift, and workplace accidents go up around 6 percent. (My workplace these days is sitting in front of my PC. My biggest workplace risk is spilling my extra large coffee on the keyboard.) Productivity for those who don’t trip and fall over their trash can goes way down on the first Monday, as shown in several studies.

• Michael Downing of Tufts University has data showing we use more gasoline during DST because we can do more things after school and work, involving increased leisure driving. An Indiana study showed an increase in electricity consumption during warm weather DST months because people ran their air conditioning more in those warm late afternoon and early evening hours. All this, of course, leads to more burning of fossil fuels.

• There is also the increased risk of pedestrian accidents early in DST season, particularly for school children out there in the dark for early commuting to school the next few weeks. Statisticians say this is not counterbalanced in the late fall and early winter onset of darkness. Most school children are home before dusk.

Okay, enough with the cons. Let’s move to the pros.

• Economists believe we spend more disposable cash by shopping more when it’s lighter later. Even with the economic travails of malls these days, this is still thought to be true. There is increased spending for sporting events as well.

• There have been many psychological studies linking later sunsets to mood elevation (even more so in the warm weather that will eventually get here, so help me). Children get more exercise as they play outside for longer hours in the light. Families can do more things together and become more active.

• There is also a fair body of evidence that DST helps to reduce workplace fatigue with a brighter environment.

One vital segment of the population for whom DST matters little: farmers. Farmers have to go by the sun, as their chickens and livestock do. So no matter how much we mess around with our clocks, farmers’ workdays are largely immune to clock change impacts.

There have been occasional proposals to go to DST year-round. The United Kingdom experimented with this from 1968 to 1971 and found an 11 percent decrease in auto accident fatalities. Correlation may not prove causation, but that statistic is at least suggestive of a positive.

At least these days, more and more of our technology automatically switches the clocks between DST and EST, so there’s less fumbling around with that nuisance. And Indiana finally got smart about DST a few decades back. They used to have a county-by-county hodgepodge of observation, which was, frankly, crazy. Now, Indiana is in lockstep, and sanity prevails.

I realize this article contains more cons than pros. Look, I’m aware of my meteorological bias, and I made every effort to compensate for it. I looked at many lists of pros and cons and, on every one of them, the cons outnumbered the pros … sort of like the Sabres’ season.

Good luck with sleeping late on Sunday, folks.

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