23 December 2012

Waiting for Sunrise Near the Russian Arctic



Russian Exaggerated Time.

Our time zone should be called Russian Exaggerated Time.  The problem goes back to initiatives of Peter the Great, Joseph Stalin, and Dmitry Medvedev.

Our second winter of year-long summer time is enervating.   Larissa and I feel time is disappearing, flying by...poof!  We have given in to sleeping way late, sometimes not getting our of bed until after 10 AM.

First, in 1703 Peter founded St Petersburg just 7 degrees from the Arctic Circle.  Next, Stalin in 1930 added an hour to what was sensible standard time.  And then Medvedev  added another hour in 2011!

St Petersburg’s location in such a northern latitude makes time coordination with central Russia difficult.  Arctic Climatology and Meteorology states... 

The Arctic Circle is an imaginary line that marks the latitude above which the sun does not set on the day of the summer solstice (usually 21 June) and does not rise on the the day of the winter solstice (usually 21 December).

My Calculation. The Arctic Circle is moving approximately 50 feet north every year, that’s almost two miles since Peter the Great established St Petersburg in 1703.

The northern latitudes experience accelerating sunrise – and shorter days – until the winter solstice.  St Petersburg’s shortest day in 2012 was December 21, and the latest sunrise was 1101 from December 23 through 30.  Twilight on either side of sunrise and sunset gives us some light during two to three hours from dawn to sunrise and from sunset to dusk.

I first saw a far northern sky while on the USS Bordelon in 1969 when we were approaching our incursion of the Arctic Circle.  The St Petersburg sky is similar now... light blue, with clouds hanging in the cold air, wispy, white and moving little.  The sun throughout the day stays close to the horizon.

The latest civil time sunrise in the world that I’ve found for December 21st is at Umba, Russia, just south of the Circle, at 1240 PM.  Vorkuta, just inside the Arctic Circle, is in darkness until its next sunrise the day after Christmas.  Murmansk, within the Arctic Circle, has no daylight whatsoever  from December 1 through January 10.   

How Russia could make telling time so awkward?

The two extra hours added to our time are especially difficult for Russia’s cities close to the Arctic Circle.  St Petersburg’s sunrise is approximately two hours off solar time, but Moscow’s at this time of year is only around one hour.

St Petersburg’s time zone, Moscow Time, jibed with western Russia’s longitude range until June 21, 1930 when it was advanced an hour year-round changing it from 2 to 3 hours later than London.   Then another hour was added with Dimitry Medvedev’s decree in 2011. 

True solar time for the December 21 sunrise is 905 AM but on the civic clock that’s 11 AM!  Oslo Norway, on the same latitude as St Petersburg, but at around 20 degrees longitude west, observes civil sunrise on December 21 at  918. 

Adjusting to whacky man made time...

You might say... Well, why not pretend that standard civil time is closer to solar time and just subtract a few hours at this time of year from the clock, and get up at 8 (resulting ) as you did before?  It isn’t so easy as people and institutions beyond our apartment insist on observing civil time.

My step-father, Ray Clarke told about  his early years in Atlantic Highlands NJ.  His grandpa hated Daylight Savings Time so he carried two watches in his vest pockets... one on his right for government Daylight Savings, the one to his left for true Standard Time... a true curmudgeon! 

Fact Check!  Years later I asked Ray if his account was true.  He hesitated, smiled, and quietly said, No.

Arguments for a change back...

People need to wake up and get safely to school or work.  The general feeling in St Petersburg is that the extra winter daylight time added to short winter afternoons isn’t worth the later mornings.

We are that much further separated from Western Europe, Britain, and the US.  Emails to California can require a longer wait for an answer.

How I deal with Russian Exaggerated Time...

Every morning I check with the website Time and Date [click here], and write the civil times of sunrise, sunset, and solar noon at the top of my memo book.  Then I subtract 1200 from the solar noon time to find the difference between official civil time and real solar time.

What will be the future of time measurement in Russia?

It appeared this fall that Medvedev’s decree would be reversed.  Now any action seems unlikely.  If it were up to me I would abolish both extra hours and work to make civil time closer to solar time.

Further reading.

Over the years this has been a favorite topic of mine.  You  may enjoy these posts from other years... Just click on the title.

The Solstice in St Peters.burg

Watch Out for the Solstice!

Bargain Heating Bills in St Petersburg!

Russian time changes a final time, now told with fewer watches!

Sliding Into a Cold Dark Winter of the Russian North

Comments and messages most welcome!

You can comment just below, or, by using the Wibiya strip at the bottom of this page, send a message, write on Facebook, or Tweet!



  1. How complicated! Spain is always 1 hour in front of the UK - that is enough for me to get confused. The sun is just setting here (17:38) after a glorious day. best wishes to you my friend and all the best for 2013 - what ever the time is!

  2. Haha while I've noticed that the time doesn't make any sense, I kind of just accepted it as part of Russia's general tendency to do precisely as it likes, with little regard for logic!


Comments, Questions, Ideas