Friday, February 1, 2013

How accurate is the groundhog?

Thousands of people will begin gathering at 3 a.m. Saturday in Punxsutawney, Pa., for the small town's annual Groundhog Day festivities.

The main event comes at 7:25 a.m., when handlers bring Punxsutawney Phil from his den to see if the groundhog casts a shadow.

Similar events will be taking place elsewhere in North America, with other groundhogs looking for their shadows. There's our very own Queen Charlotte, along with General Beauregard Lee in Atlanta, Staten Island Chuck in New York, and Wiarton Willie in Ontario.

It's a lot of fun, and if the groundhog's forecast suits your tastes, it also brings a bit of hope.

I remember, in my days in northeastern Ohio, how some people would get depressed if Punxsutawney Phil saw his shadow, promising six more weeks of winter.

The whole groundhog thing dates back to the Middle Ages, when European Christians burned candles on Feb. 2 to signal hope in the middle of the winter darkness. February 2 came to be known as Candlemas Day, giving rise to this poem:

If Candlemas be fair and bright,
winter has another flight.
If Candlemas brings clouds and rain,
winter will not come again.

And in 1887, the editor of Punxsutawney's newspaper came up with the idea of holding a festival every year, built around the Candlemas tradition. According to stories I found, the editor, Clymer Freas, decided to link the event to the groundhog, because many of his buddies enjoyed hunting the critters.

According to National Weather Service statistics for southwest Pennsylvania over the past 20 years, Punxsutawney Phil's record is 4 wins, 5 losses, and 11 ties.

A "tie" occurred when February's and March's temperatures differed greatly. For example, in 2011, temperatures in southwest Pennsylvania were below-average in February but above-average in March. So I counted that as a tie.

Actually, Phil does better at predicting March temperatures than February.  If you compare his prediction with one month's temperatures, he had a 7-13 record in February but 11-9 in March.

Queen Charlotte here in Charlotte has been 2-3 over the last five years.  She saw her shadow last Feb. 2, and we experienced one of the warmest winters on record.  Two years ago, she didn't see her shadow -- and what had started as a very cold winter turned very warm, about a week after Groundhog Day.


8 comments:

Anonymous said...

So what you're telling me is that he's 50-50 at guessing.

Anonymous said...

As Brian Fantana would say; "50 percent of the time, he's right every time."

Anonymous said...

My wife's OB told her when she was pregnant - we have a 50% chance of knowing the sex of your baby 100% of the time

Snuffy said...

Candlemas Day, Candlemas Day,
Half your wood,
And half your hay.

Anonymous said...

100% chance of garbage weather in Charlotte-days of snowless cold with wasted heating costs, followed by "unseasonably mild" periods gushed over by local meteros.

Anonymous said...

its not up to a moronic animal handler to determine if the groundhog sees it's shadow. The whole silly thing is based on sunshine or clouds. If you keep the groundhog in the garage, of course it won't see it's shadow...DUH??? Go back to posting sings on Charlotte Nature trails warning folks not to move the sticks in the woods. Geez!

Anonymous said...

Remember the rules in weather forecasting:

Cold = Wicked. Terrible. Bad. You must hate it. How dare it be cold in winter. Nasty. Ruins life.

Unseasonably Warm = Great. Wonderful. Enjoy it. The way it should be. You automatically love it. Makes life more worth living. Beautiful!

Weather is not only predicted, but you are told if it is good or bad.

Winter = Cold = Normal said...

I would go with the groundhog over the fortune tellers--pardon me--forecasters, on TV. And, unlike the forecasters, the large rodent keeps his head when a snow cloud appears. Been there before, he, and realises cold is not a newsworthy shock in February.