Witt: Evidence time zones aren’t needed

On April 2, this column discussed Daylight Saving Time, with an allusion to time zones, and a promise to look at those in the future.

The future is now.

The continental U.S. is separated into four time zones: Eastern, Central, Mountain and Pacific. Alaska and Hawaii each exist in their own separate zones.

Since time zones were originally designed to, approximately, divide the world into 24 hour segments, each zone should have occupied a segment of the globe’s surface equal to 15 degrees of latitude. Sounds simple, right? Far from it.

First, 15 degree of latitude occupies a wider segment of the globe at the equator than at latitudes moving north and south from there.

And, of course, the guys who were developing this system were already smart enough to realize people all across the world were not simply going to sit by and let their time choices be dictated by anyone not of their own, especially a group of eggheads sequestered in some dusty room half a world away.

In fact, there were major arguments about where the zero line should be, with the British and French at one another’s throats over the issue.

When the final vote set the zero line at Greenwich in England, the French abstained.

So, time zone lines across the U.S. zig and zag every which way…because of local and regional politics.

The Eastern-Central demarcation line follows the east coast of Lake Michigan and generally down the state line between Indiana and Illinois, then veers southeast as it crosses Kentucky, separating about a third of the western portion of the state into the Central zone.

It then crosses Tennessee and puts Knoxville and Nashville in two different zones before following the north-south state line between Alabama and Georgia and cutting about 120 miles of the Florida panhandle into the central zone.

The Central-Mountain line starts down the state line between North Dakota and Montana and then, for some odd reason jogs eastward, lopping about a quarter of North Dakota into the Mountain zone while the rest of the state follows Central time.

The line then goes almost directly south, but in doing so, bisects South Dakota and Nebraska, before once again assuming the state lines between Kansas and Colorado, and Oklahoma, Texas and New Mexico. There’s an odd little jog in the line along the south border of New Mexico and Texas and a small triangular chunk of Texas that gets thrown into the Mountain Zone.

The Mountain-Pacific line almost exactly follows the north-south state lines separating the two, except for a small section of Idaho abutting Washington which has opted to be included in the Pacific zone instead of being with the rest of the state in the Mountain Zone.

The continental U.S. is 2,680 miles wide, from the east coast of Maine to the Pacific coast in California, and encompasses four time zones.

China is 3,040 miles wide, and observes one time zone. Which serves to illustrate — as do the multitude of offsets and strange configurations in the American time zone lines — the decisions relating to the selection of which time zone will be observed in which location is totally determined by government, that is, people who were given the authority to establish their own criteria as to which time they wished to observe.

It has nothing to do with logic.

Take a look at the U.S. time zone map sometime; it truly is intriguing.

Incidentally, the longitude of Winchester is 84°10’47”W. Just thought you’d want to know.

Chuck Witt is a retired architect and a lifelong resident of Winchester. He can be reached at chuck740@bellsouth.net.