Archive for the 'Columns' Category

February 11th, 2009 - PUNXSUTAWNEY PHIL

By Dennis Gordon  

On February 2nd of this year, “Punxsutawney Phil, Seer of Seers, Sage of Sages, Prognosticator of Prognosticators and Weather Prophet Extraordinary” predicted another six weeks of winter, after seeing his shadow.  I don’t think that the people around where I live are going to see things the same as Phil.  We have had two days of really cold weather and the rest have been above normal since Phil’s prediction.  It even got into the seventy’s on one day.  The normal high for us at this time of the year is in the low forty’s.

The date of February 2nd, the day we know as “Groundhog Day’, falls approximately right smack dab in the middle of winter.  To me that means that winter is only half over.  That also tells me that we will have another six weeks of winter.  Spring will come this year on March 20th no matter what the groundhog says.

Is Phil getting a bum rap this year because of his prediction?  Studies have been done to determine how accurate he is with his predictions and in reality he is about as good as your local television weatherperson, on long range forecasts.

On a ten-year study, the sky was overcast three years out of ten, meaning that there would not have been a shadow and an early spring was on the way. Sad to say, but Phil was not right even once during these three years.  In fact, in 1995 Phil predicted that winter was on the wane and within forty-eight hours his burrow and much of the Northeast was hit with one to two feet of snow and sub-zero wind chills.

What about the remaining seven years?  Supposedly Phil would have seen his shadow and another six weeks of winter was to come.  During the study, four years were milder than normal, so the groundhog got an extra six weeks of napping.  This leaves three years where Phil was right on.  Winter dragged on longer than usual.

Phil’s predictions run at the 30 percent level at being correct for his long-range forecasts.  How does that compare to your local television weatherperson? 

If we use Phil’s prediction for only the next several days after February 2nd, his reliability jumps to better than fifty percent.  This is called “persistence forecasts”.  What this means is that tomorrow’s weather will be similar to today’s weather.  Using this principle, we are likely to be right more often than not, generally around sixty percent of the time.

Many people still believe that animals can predict the weather better than some of the weather instruments and computers that meteorologist use in today’s age.  While this may be true in some instances of short-range forecasts, none of the weather lore sayings are reliable for long-range weather predictions.  For example, a squirrel gathering many nuts in the fall has no bearing on how cold or harsh a winter may or may not be.  Squirrels are just very industrious about gathering a good supply of food to get them through the winter months.  Animals growing thick coats in the early winter does not mean that a tough winter is ahead, and as we have just seen by the study of the groundhog, he is only right about thirty percent of the time,

Some weather lore predictions  have a lot of merit and some are just observations that someone noticed one day and took for gospel, and are still believed in this day and age by some people.

We are now getting a break in the winter weather as I write this.  This past weekend it was beautiful weather. It is now in the 50’s and is predicted to be mild for the next week, but I know by the calendar that spring is still not to come until March 20th.