5 of the weirdest time zone facts

5 of the weirdest time zone facts

Fun facts

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Have you got a minute? From the prime meridian to the international date line and back again, here are some of the weirdest time zone facts

Time. It has overbearing control over our lives, and yet it seems a lot of us don’t have enough of it. We all have 24 hours in our day, but there are 38 time zones observed across the world offset from Coordinated Universal Time (UTC), and each country gets to pick the one it aligns with. Some of them are straightforward and sensible, and some of them are downright quirky, working completely against expectation. Just for fun, let’s look at 5 of the weirdest time zone facts.

The patchwork of Arizona

Road sign reading "Mountain Time Zone" on the Arizona border — ShutterstockUTC-7, or Mountain Time, is the time zone that most of Arizona uses all year round — Shutterstock

Arizona is the only mainland US state that chooses not to observe daylight saving time (DST) it operates on UTC-7 all year round and has done since 1968. The reason for this is that it’s such a hot place, and putting the clocks forward in the summer would make Arizona evenings even warmer and more uncomfortable. Sounds sensible enough.

But then there are the Native American reservations in Arizona, one of which, the Navajo Nation in the state’s northeast corner, does observe DST. This is in keeping with the parts of the reservation that spill over into neighboring Utah and New Mexico, meanwhile, it means that the land area of around 71,000 square kilometers is one hour ahead of the rest of Arizona in the summertime.

The complexity doesn’t stop there. The Hopi Reservation, comprised of two enclaves within the Navajo Nation, conforms with Arizona by not observing DST. And in turn, there’s a small Navajo exclave in the east of the Hopi Reservation which, yes, observes DST in accordance with the rest of the Navajo Nation. If you took a summer road trip through these reservations and their enclaves and exclaves, you’d have to set your clock forward and backward a total of six times.

New Year is double the fun in Gold Coast

New Year fireworks in Gold Coast — ShutterstockCelebrate New Year twice in Gold Coast — Shutterstock

The city of Gold Coast sits in the far southeastern corner of Queensland — a state of Australia that chooses not to observe DST. Its suburb of Coolangatta is immediately adjacent to the town of Tweed Heads, and it’s reasonable to say that all these settlements are part of one large metropolitan area. Only, Tweed Heads is immediately over the border in the state of New South Wales, which you guessed it does observe DST.

The Queensland-New South Wales border actually cuts Gold Coast Airport almost precisely in half, runway and all. Theoretically, flights departing in the summer months leave the terminal in one time zone and take off from the ground in another. In practice, and wisely, the airport chooses to operate exclusively on Queensland time.

If you love the thrill of celebrating New Year, Gold Coast is your perfect destination. Party in Tweed Heads before heading up to the center of the city in time to count down to midnight all over again, just one hour later.

China’s one-time policy

Landcape of the Bayanbulak grasslands in Xinjiang — ShutterstockThe Bayanbulak Grassland National Nature Reserve in Xinjiang, where time is relative — Shutterstock

While some countries love dissecting themselves into as many time zones and DST-observance regulations as they can get away with, the same can’t be said for China. A territory that, given its expanse and the earth’s curvature, should operate on five different time zones, China keeps things simple by observing UTC+8 (the natural, solar time in Beijing) everywhere, all year round.

Of course, though, the consequences of this are far from simple. Working hours in Western China are later, as the sun doesn’t typically rise in the region until 10:00. The westernmost autonomous region of Xinjiang has its own unofficial time zone — UTC+6 — but even this is largely adhered to only by the Uyghur ethnic group, which makes up a mere 50% of Xinjiang’s population. This results in two different times existing in separate communities, but coexisting in one society, and you can imagine the extent of confusion it must cause. At the risk of sounding too philosophical, Xinjiang truly is a place where time is relative.

“Central” European Time

Lighthouse at Cape Touriñán in Galicia at sunset — ShutterstockCape Touriñán in Galicia is the westernmost point of mainland Spain — Shutterstock

According to solar time, Spain, Andorra, France, Monaco, Belgium, Luxembourg and the Netherlands should share UTC the time zone in the other Western European nations of the UK, Ireland and Portugal. But they don’t. No, they’re an hour ahead on UTC+1, or Central Europen Time (CET).

There is a somewhat practical reason behind this. During World War II, clocks in these countries were moved one hour ahead in alignment with the time in Germany, and they simply never went back. As a result, CET today is a very broad time zone indeed, encompassing some territories that wouldn’t pass as “Central European” by any definition.

From the westernmost point of mainland Spain to the easternmost point of Svalbard, Norway, it spans over 42 degrees — nearly three times as far as a natural solar time zone does. Of course, not every country within this area operates on CET, but for those that lie on its edges, the sun can rise and set at odd times. For instance, in the shortest winter days, the sun doesn’t appear in Galicia until sometimes gone 09:00, and yet it doesn’t go down until after 18:00. While nine hours of daylight is relatively manageable in the northern hemisphere in December, it’s certainly not ideal that they don’t begin until the average Galician’s morning is nearly over.

The ends (or beginnings?) of the earth

Coastal palm trees in American Samoa on a sunny day — ShutterstockThe tropical US territory of American Samoa is an entire calendar day behind the nearby independent state from which it gets its name — Shutterstock

The international date line is an imaginary boundary down the Pacific Ocean that separates two consecutive calendar days. In theory, the time zones immediately either side of the date line are UTC-12 and UTC+12. But of course, against all logic, it doesn’t quite work like this.

Take Samoa. Part of the western hemisphere in solar terms, the island nation operated on UTC-11 until 2011. This is when the country skipped over December 30 altogether as the date line was redrawn, putting it in the “east” on UTC+13 (yes, I know), so that it could be closer in time to Australia and New Zealand for economic reasons. Neighboring American Samoa was left behind on the other side of the date line, and now the two territories are 24 hours apart, despite being only some 150 kilometers away from each other.

If UTC+13 sounds like a bit of a bizarre cop-out, Kiribati takes it to the extreme, with part of the country operating 14 hours ahead of UTC. Kiribati’s time zone choice makes it the first place on the planet to celebrate New Year. What’s more, it means that every day, briefly, there are three calendar days going on at once: if it’s midnight on Wednesday in eastern Kiribati, it’s 11:00 on Tuesday in Central Europe, and 23:00 on Monday in American Samoa. I don’t know about you, but I’m jetlagged just thinking about all of this.

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