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GROUNDHOG DAY:

Spring is coming - EVENTUALLY:
The FEB-02 weather predictions
of Punxsutawney Phil and his
competitors across North America:

January 19 is approximately the date each winter when daily high temperatures at the Raleigh-Durham airport in North Carolina start to increase. After the daily high spends several days at about 49 degrees Fahrenheit, on average, it will typically reach 50 degrees F as Spring approaches. Similarly, the reversal point there in Summer, on average, ocurrs on JUL-23, when the normal high temperature drops back to 89 degrees F after a few days at 90 degrees F

I feel that these dates should be celebrated around North America as a new holiday. Kingston, Ontario, Canada could be selected as the location for North America, since it is on the border between the U.S. and Canada, and thus the date could be clebrated by both countries. (Also, It is the city where I happen to live and am fond of.)

FEB-02 is known by Christians as the date of "The Presentation of the Lord in the Temple" and "Purification of the Blessed Virgin." It may also be a date when many people will have notice the weather noticably warming.

There are a number of groundhogs in North America who some people regard as prognosticators of an early or late spring. Perhaps the most famous is Punxsutawney Phil (a.k.a. Punxsy Phil) who has appeared on Oprah's TV program, has met with Ronald Reagan, and has co-starred with Bill Murray. Punxsy is pulled out of his simulated tree stump at 7:25 AM on FEB-02 each year to make his prediction.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) studies the U.A. oceans, waterways and atmosphere. They studied Punxsutawney Phil's past predictions since 1887, and found that he reported:

  • 6 more weeks of winter 101 times;
  • An early spring 17 times;
  • Had nine years of missing data.

His accuracy has been an unimpressive 39%. Of course, being in error about 60% of the time means that if you reverse Phil's prediction for a given year, you will probably get the right answer!

However, he might be improving recently. NOAA notes that over the decade from 2011 to 2020, he was right 50% of the time. 1 If this continues, then his predictions will be unhelpful for making predictions.

Punsky Phil is monitored by a club that plans events fpr Groundhog Day. The club says that they believe Phil to be immortal. That is, he is the same groundhog that has made predictions for the past 132 years. However, since a grounhog's life span is typically under six years in the wild, a succession of different groundhogs have probably been making predictions down through the years in Philadelphia.

Stormfax.com reports that a native American group originally settled the town Punxsutawney, PA between the Allegheny and Susquehanna Rivers, some 90 miles northeast of Pittsburgh. They believed that groundhogs were the ancestors of modern day humans. Modern-day scientists are more likely to believe that groundhogs and humans -- both mammals -- share a common ancestor:  perhaps Ikaria wariootia, a snail-like creature who lived about 555 million years ago and was about the size of a grain of rice. 2

The book of Genesis in the Bible seems to imply that groundhogs were created about the same time as humans and other animals, during a week about 4004 BCE

German settlers of Pennsylvania brought with them a tradition of Candlemas Day. It occurred midway between the Winter Solstice and Spring Equinox. If the sun was shining on that day, then people expected that they would have to endure another six weeks of wintry weather. Some watched the behavior of groundhogs on that day. If one woke up from his mid-winter hibernation, peeked out of his winter quarters, and saw his shadow, he was expected to go back into his home for another six weeks nap. If it was cloudy that day, he would stay out and expect the weather to moderate soon.

On Groundhog Day in 2021, Punsky Phil saw his shadow, went back into his hibernation tree trunk, and thus predicted a long winter.

However, in Canada, Manitoba Merve, at the Oak Hammock Marsh, did not see his shadow and precicted an early spring. Acting responsibly, he was wearing a mask because of the Covid-19 pandemic. Resident Teresa Visser told Winnipeg radio station CJOB that Merve's predictions have been 98% accurate in the past. Other Canadian groundhogs, including Fred La Marmotte (in Quebec), and Shubanacadie Sam (in Nova Scotia), made the same forecast this year.

Wiarton Willie in Wiarton, ON, didn't cooperate, so officials followed an earlier tradition.They threw a fur hat into the air, observed its motion, and called for an early spring.

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References:

1. "Groundhog Day Forecasts and Climate History." NOAA, 2021-FEB-02, at: https://www.ncei.noaa.gov/
2. Eleabir Imster, "Was this the ancestor of all animals?," EarthSky, 2020-MAR-30, at: Was this the ancestor of all animals?
3. Anthony DiMattia, "Groundhog Day 2021 prediction: 6 more weeks of winter as Phil sees his shadow," USA Today. 2021-FEB-02, at: Groundhog Day 2021: Six more weeks of winter as Phil sees his shadow

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Originally written 2021-FEB-02 by B.A. Robinson

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