Daylight saving's wasted here, but change your clocks anyway

Posted: Friday, April 02, 2004

Brandon Loomis is city editor of the Juneau Empire.

It's time again to miss church, wake up groggy, garden until midnight or whatever it is that you do with the petty inconvenience of daylight-saving time.

And if you're one of the sleepyheads who finds it more than a minor annoyance, take heart. People are still out there fighting the good fight that began in 1983 when Alaska squeezed what should be four time zones into one. It's just that no one's paying attention.

Lynn Willis is an air cargo worker who gets "jet lag" every time the first Sunday in April comes around. He's created a Web site (www.endalaskadaylightsaving.com) seeking either legislative action or a voter initiative to keep us from springing forward, and every year at this time he writes letters to the editor and his legislators. So far his Web site shows 330 hits. So far legislative attempts to end the clock change have been stuck in committee.

Though he works at Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport, Willis doesn't fly much. But messing with his clock throws his whole week off.

"You just get used to a normal routine, getting up at a certain time, eating at a certain time, going to bed at a certain time, and for no good reason that changes," Willis says. "I must have more problem with jet lag than most people, but it just really affects me."

He e-mailed a link to his Web site, which says, "Daylight-saving time is a waste of time for Alaskans. Contact your legislator. Repeal daylight-saving time in Alaska now!!!!!"

In the newspaper business we get a lot of these, and each extra exclamation point generally helps spell out c-r-a-c-k-p-o-t. I don't know how many times I've been asked to get the United States out of the United Nations. People will try to sic you on their neighbors. Some have axes to grind. Last month I got a "traveler's advisory" warning of SARS, cruise-ship viruses and poisoned oysters in British Columbia. I investigated and found the bitter writer had run afoul of the provincial authorities after a traffic accident while on vacation.

But Willis has two things going for him. One is that he's a working man and consumers count on him to get his sleep. Another is that it's so damn light in Alaska in summer. Exactly which part of the state needs us to save its daylight? Willis may not have dollars on his side, but he's got logic.

"The whole purpose of a time zone is to have the sun highest at noon," he says. "What's the point (of altering that)?"

He's right. Time zones generally are set at 15-degree longitudinal intervals for the purpose of having the sun overhead at noon. And the point of daylight-saving time is to set that off by an hour for the summer to give people more time in the light after work.

Former Soldotna state legislator Ken Lancaster joined the fight two years ago because daylight-saving is pointless in Alaska and, this time of year, leaves some of the state's schoolchildren out in the morning darkness. His bill went nowhere, he says, because businesses wanted to be closer in time to other states.

"I just think that's a moot point in this day and age of technology," he says. But he sees no hope for overcoming it in the Legislature.

Carl Benson has been in on this fight for years, too. The retired University of Alaska geophysics professor wrote a piece in the Juneau Empire 21 years ago advocating against the collapse of the state's time zones, and now he calls daylight-saving time "triple daylight-saving time" for much of the state. Travelling from Juneau to Nome is like going from Boston to Denver, which would require two time changes. But it doesn't, so Nome's sun is way off-kilter. Spring forward and you've made it worse.

Not that being off-kilter is unusual for Alaska. The sun shines for so long in summer that it might not matter where it is at noon to most. Benson, though, did field work around the Arctic before the days of global-positioning technology, and he had to judge his location by the location of the sun. Seeing a noon sun at 3 p.m. just bugs him.

"The farther west you go the sillier it gets," Benson says. "But I guess we do a lot of silly things here."

Luckily for Nome, on the longest day of the year the sun will set at 1:49 a.m. instead of 12:49.

Worse than the time change for Benson is the massive Alaska time zone, wide enough to stretch across the continental U.S. He isn't buying the old arguments that Anchorage and Fairbanks need to be on the same clock as Juneau. Eleven smaller states split time zones, separating some from their state capital, he says. He expects the 1983 change was nothing more than a way to get Anchorage stockbrokers closer to New York time.

I don't have much in common with stockbrokers, other than that I do have a cell phone and it doesn't give me unlimited minutes until 9 p.m. on weeknights. By then it's 1 a.m. in New York and my parents are sleeping. So being this far west costs me money, too.

But the fact is, we are this far west. And we're plenty far north. And there's a full moon Sunday night.



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