Weather Blog

What's the deal with Groundhog Day?

What's the deal with Groundhog Day?
Ben Hughes, handler of the weather-predicting groundhog Punxsutawney Phil, holds Phil after removing him from his stump at Gobbler's Knob on Groundhog Day, Monday, Feb. 2, 2009, in Punxsutawney, Pa.

In the spirit of Bill Murray's Groundhog Day movie and the fact that I just got back from some time off and am catching up, here is a repeat of the blog I wrote two years ago on Groundhog's Day, updated a little to match current conditions.

So a groundhog doesn't see his shadow today (how could it with the winter they're having back East?) and it's 6 weeks of spring? Who came up with that idea?

In a quick scan of the Internet, I've found conflicting information. Some say the Germans started the tradition and it revolves around the original English version of Candlemas Day, which is both 40 days after Christmas (returned that scratchy sweater yet? No? Uh-oh...) and the exact midpoint of winter -- we're 6 weeks in and have 6 weeks to go.

Apparently this Candlemas Day was akin to opposite weather day. If you saw the sun today, you were doomed to 6 weeks of foul, winter weather. A cloudy day, and spring is just around the corner.

Of the sites I found, this one has the best information of the story of how we have our current tradition of Punxsutawney Phil (Thank you, Microsoft, for having 'Punxsutawney' in your Word spell check. It only took me three attempts to spell it close enough for Word to find it. They couldn't just have moved a bit next door to Fairview, Pennsylvania? Journalists would thank you, and think of the 'Desperate Housewives' tie-ins...)

As for 2011, for just the 17th time since 1886, Phil didn't see his shadow. That's against 98 times it didn't see his shadow and other years of no record.

Wait, 98 times it's been sunny on Groundhog Day there? I suppose with all the media coverage and ensuing bright stage lights, I don't see how he ever not casts a shadow, but if they take that into account, I hereby declare Puxnatawny .... Pusxatoney .....Punsxtonnie.... -- the suburb of Fairview as typically the sunniest city in the nation on February 2 -- when it's not a strong La Nina with a persistent negative Northern Arctic Oscillation factor) and the second-worst place ever to live for the second half of winter. (Ever been to Fargo in mid-February?)

The main Groundhog Day web site boasts 100% accuracy, but as long as you get one snowstorm and a sunny day within the next six weeks, I suppose it verifies either way. (And considering I just checked the long range forecast and yet another snowstorm is forecast to head for the Great Lakes in another week, they might want to rethink that 100%. But then again, as long as they get one snow storm and one sunny day in the next few weeks, I guess it verifies either way.

(Note that apparently we're not supposed to try and challenge the data -- this is posted on their site: "Any interpretation of this data by secondary experts, meteorologists, and others are feeble attempts to undermine the statistics below. To quote our Inner Circle president, 'There are a lot of important events in life, and Groundhog Day is not one of them.' " If only I can tweak that disclaimer for Convergence Zones... )

But I'm not discouraged from verifying its accuracy out here, so how did we do here? In 2008, the Gig Harbor Geoduck (no, that doesn't really exist, but Gig Harbor Chamber of Commerce, I want credit if you decide to try it :) would have noted it was cloudy and drizzly on the 2nd, meaning no shadow. Yet winter stretched into mid-April -- the first time in 35 years your taxes were due before the last snowfall of the season.

As for today, it possibly would have seen its shadow (depending on if geoducks actually have eyes, I guess) meaning we're relegated to 6 weeks of winter.  Then again, if the last 6 weeks have been "winter", many who hate snow would be all on board that train.

Our actual long range forecast keeps it warm and mild for a while, but does at least hint at some  cooler weather late next week.

So both sunshine and a bout of colder temperatures in the offing over the next few weeks. Guess the Gig Harbor Geoduck bats 1.000 too! :)