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.
So a groundhog sees his shadow, and it's 6 weeks of winter. 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 this year, for the 97th time since 1886, Phil saw his shadow. (That's against just 14 times it didn't see his shadow and 9 years of no record.  Not sure with all the media coverage and ensuing bright stage lights, he ever not casts a shadow, but if they take that into account, I hereby declare Puxnatawny .... Pusxatoney .....Punsxtonnie.... -- the suburb of Fairview as the sunniest city in the nation on February 2, 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.

(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 last year? 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 :) ) probably would have seen its shadow today (depending on if geoducks actually have eyes, I guess) meaning we're relegated to 6 weeks of winter. But in the Northwest, I bet it's different. For instance, last year, 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.

Our actual long range forecast does indeed portend cooler weather next week. Guess we should try and organize the one sunny day we get per winter month not to fall on Groundhog Day :)