diamond geezer

 Friday, February 25, 2011

Hmmm, yesterday's post on Double Summer Time opened a can of worms. Over forty heartfelt comments, with opinion split roughly half and half between those who think DST's a great idea and those who think it's madness. If you want to continue that argument, please go to yesterday's comments box here.

So look, my problem with British Summer Time is this. We put our clocks back at the end of October, two months before the shortest day. But we put our clocks forward at the end of March, three months after the shortest day. Why the extra month's difference? Is there really a good reason, or does this simply make March thirty-one hours more miserable than it ought to be.

At the end of October, immediately after the clocks go back, sunrise is just before 7am and sunset is at about 4:45pm. These are the times which trigger the end of British Summer Time, the clocks-back moment. Middle of autumn, last week of October.

So clocks should go forward again when the same solar conditions prevail. When sunset is once again at 4:45pm, perhaps. But this happened four weeks ago at the end of January. One of the quirks of axis-tilted daylight is that sunset gets later much quicker than sunrise gets earlier. So the end of January is too early to switch the clocks, because sunrise hasn't caught up yet.

So we ought to match sunrise times, not sunset times. Clocks should go forward again as soon as sunrise occurs at the same time as it did in October. When sunrise is just before 7am, that is. And that happens at the end of February - indeed it's this very weekend. But that's not what happens either.

Instead we wait an extra month until the last week of March to put our clocks forward. By then sunrise isn't just before 7am, it's just before 6am. And sunset isn't just before 5pm, it's more like 6:30pm, which is a heck of a lot later. Why do we hold back so long?

Sunrise and sunset times - London (GMT)
 last week
of October
shortest day
(Dec 21st)
last week
of January
last week
of February
last week
of March
 sunrise 6:50am8:05am7:45am6:50am5:45am
 sunset 4:45pm3:55pm4:45pm5:30pm6:30pm

I genuinely don't understand why our Summer Time dates are asymmetric. Eight weeks before the shortest day, but fourteen weeks after. Why do we prolong evening gloom for so many weeks longer than seems necessary?

Be aware that precisely the same irregularity would apply if Britain decided to go with Double Summer Time. We'd switch from GMT+1 to GMT+2 in March and back again in October. Still five months of one and seven months of the other, and still not balanced out with the solstices at the centre.

Our Daylight Saving changeover dates are regulated by European legislation. Officially the date is Sunday (31−(5*y÷ 4+4) mod 7) March, but don't let that worry you. In practice, "the summer-time period shall begin, in every Member State, at 1am Greenwich Mean Time on the last Sunday in March." Before you go blaming Brussels, this is exactly the same scheduling that used to apply to UK Summer Time before the European directive was issued. March forward, October back.

So I want to launch a campaign to put the clocks forward at the end of February, not at the end of March. Back on the last Sunday in October, and forward on the last Sunday in February. Simple, sane, symmetrical.

Under my proposal, this week would be the last week of the winter we'd have to put up with premature sunset. My simple change would mean that sunset next week was at quarter to seven, not quarter to six, which would be a genuine boost. Let's welcome March with a spring in our step, not with gloom in our hearts.

A shorter British Wintertime. February Forward. You know it makes sense.

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