“Turn your face to the sun and the shadows fall
behind you.”~ Maori Proverb
On Feb. 2, we urge a sleepy little groundhog to wake up and climb out of his cozy winter underground burrow. Phil hibernates at this time of year. So why ask this of him? We depend on his expertise to decide when spring will arrive. Although you may find Groundhog Day on a calendar, it is not scientifically based. The exact reason for it is unknown. Over the years it has become a fun tradition.
How does a groundhog communicate his information? By careful observation of both a sleepy Phil and current weather conditions when he emerges from his house. If the sun is bright and shining, he’ll see his shadow. Back to bed as there will be six more weeks of winter weather. However, if the day is a cloudy, overcast one and he can’t see his shadow – spring is coming! Seems a little backward as to the outcome. Tradition often rules over reason sometimes.
Groundhog Day traditions likely date back to the Roman days. In the first few days of February, the folks in Italy kept a close eye on hedgehogs. Weather predictions were made according to the animal’s behavior (the shadow theory). Over the years, the practice moved north to Germany. As German immigrants moved into Pennsylvania, so did their traditions including the furry little forecaster. America may be a “land of plenty,” but lacks hedgehogs. Adaptation is key – they used a groundhog instead!
In 1887, the U.S. version of Groundhog Day began. Why was Feb. 2 chosen? Most likely, because it falls halfway between the winter solstice and the vernal equinox. Also, groundhogs begin to awaken from their hibernation at the beginning of February. Time to wake up! Yawn… Stretch…
These are a few facts tied to Groundhog Day:
— 90% of the time “Punxsutawney Phil” sees his shadow
— According to the NWS, Phil is correct 40% of the time.
— In 2010, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals – PETA – asked for Phil’s retirement to a sanctuary, to be replaced by an electronic groundhog. (No joke!)
As the day approaches, how should we prepare? Without Phil or even Meatball to help, two choices remain: a squirrel or a gopher, if either can remain still or above ground long enough. As of now, the Saturday, Feb. 2 forecast is for partly cloudy conditions. Not too helpful, as any shadows will be fleeting.
The NWS describes “a chamber of commerce type weather pattern” with warm and mostly clear skies. Then utter chaos among meteorologists concerning the movement of a low in the Gulf of Alaska. They cannot decide on next week’s forecast. According to the NWS, “There is 100% non agreement.”
Know of a good groundhog looking for work?
2012-13 Rain Total: 8.78 inches
Sue Kilpatrick is a Crescenta Valley resident and Official Skywarn Spotter for the National Weather Service. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.