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Groundhog sees his shadow--six more weeks of winter?

By: Dr. Jeff Masters, 3:24 PM GMT on February 02, 2008

Punxsutawney Pennsylvania's famous prognosticating rodent, Punxsutawney Phil, saw his shadow this morning. According to tradition, this means that a solid six more weeks of winter can be expected across the U.S. From the official web site of the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club, groundhog.org:

Here Ye! Here Ye! Here Ye!

On Gobbler's Knob on this fabulous Groundhog Day, February 2nd, 2008
Punxsutawney Phil, the Seer of Seers, Prognosticator of all Prognosticators,
Rose to the call of President Bill Cooper and greeted his handlers, Ben Hughes and John Griffiths.

After casting a weathered eye toward thousands of his faithful followers,
Phil consulted with President Cooper and directed him to the appropriate scroll, which proclaimed:

"As I look around me, a bright sky I see, and a shadow beside me.
Six more weeks of winter it will be!"

I'm hesitant to disagree with a forecaster of Phil's stature, but I see only about of week of hard-core winter left over the U.S. The 16-day run of the GFS model shows the jet stream retreating to a position in southern Canada in about a week, which will usher in mild temperatures for this time of year across most of the U.S. The latest 1-month outlook from NOAA's Climate Prediction Center shows an above normal chance of warmer than average temperatures across a large portion of the U.S. for February.

How did this this crazy tradition start?
It all started in Europe, centuries ago, when February 2 was a holiday called Candlemas. On Candlemas, people prayed for mild weather for the remainder of winter. The superstition arose that if a hibernating badger woke up and saw its shadow on Candlemas, there would be six more weeks of severe winter weather. When Europeans settled the New World, they didn't find any badgers. So, instead of building wooden badgers, they decided to use native groundhogs (aka the woodchuck, land beaver, or whistlepig) as their prognosticating rodent.

The Groundhog Oscillation: convincing evidence of climate change
According to a 2001 article published in the prestigious Annals of Improbable Research titled, "The Groundhog Oscillation: Evidence of Global Change", Punxsutawney Phil's forecasts have shown a high variability since 1980. This pattern, part of the larger "Groundhog Oscillation" or GO cycle, is convincing evidence of human-caused climate change.

Jeff Masters
Albino Groundhog
Albino Groundhog
Canada's famous albino groundhog named Wiarton Willy from the town of Wiarton, Ontario. Whether or not he sees his shadow or not will determine an early Spring.


The views of the author are his/her own and do not necessarily represent the position of The Weather Company or its parent, IBM.