Monday, February 1, 2010

Tuesday, February 2nd Gobbler's Knob in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania

Tomorrow is the big day...a short or extended winter based on a groundhog and his shadow.

"Groundhog Day: Any Science Behind The Shadow?"


Erik Maitland

February 1st, 2010

FOX Meteorologist

On Tuesday, February 2nd Gobbler's Knob in Punxsutawney, Pa. will be the focus of the weather world as the planet's most famous groundhog, Phil, will cast a prediction for the remainder of winter. Years ago, probably about the time Bill Murray's movie depiction of the holiday that's 99% tradition came out, I wondered if I could detect at least 1% science out of the whole thing. Here's what I came up with.

According to folklore, if the groundhog sees his shadow when rudely awakened from his nap and held on high for all the anxious crowd to see, you'd best be prepared for 6 more cold weeks of Winter. If the furry little bugger casts no shadow all can rejoice in the early forthcoming of Spring. According to the obvious, if there is a shadow that means there is some presence of sunlight in the Pennsylvania sky. If there is no shadow surely looming gray cloud cover has blanketed the region. Now, pay attention, cause this is where I take the leap into a scientific foray that could give the groundhog's prediction some sticking power.

We all know that the "6 weeks left of winter" theory already has an edge based on the fact that from February 2nd you're looking at 46 to 49 days left before the beginning of Spring. That's a solid 6, if not 7 weeks. But if we factor in various weather patterns of the northeastern United States you might see where I'm going with this. If you have sunny skies in Pennsylvania in February, essentially the dead of winter, you're usually looking at a chunk of cold, Canadian high pressure that has cleared out the skies over the area. These are sluggish bubbles of heavy chilliness that keep the jet stream south and tend to stick around for a while providing lower than average high and low temperatures. Once cold snaps like these set in, although they're tough to budge, they do provide ample sunlight - a result of the dryness of the air. This could be a sign of a prolonged cold pattern setting up, thus "more" winter to be dealt with.

On the other hand if you have a sheet of shadow-squelching clouds overhead, you could be near warmer air that's trying to move in. After all cloud layers are common around the border of cold and warm air masses. This also marks the location of pattern changing jet streams where warm air is trying to advance, perhaps signaling Mother Nature's attempt to turn the weather more pleasant for a region. Maybe this suggests the transition to Spring drawing near.

It would be my guess that many in the Midwest and Northeast are hoping that Phil doesn't see his shadow this year. It would fall to reason that he wouldn't. In this advertised El Nino winter that usually foretells of milder than average winter weather we've had a very sluggish start. With bitter cold stretches in Minnesota and big snowstorms out east Phil not seeing his shadow could be a sign of another "late-bloomer" El Nino that really doesn't show its mild side until the last half of the season. Again, I'm just trying to attach some meteorology to an event that outside of the parties, dances, and social gatherings for a small coal town northeast of Pittsburgh, doesn't mean much in the grand scheme of science. But if you play with the evidence and turn a frost-bitten ear to the hype you might just say that that shivering little groundhog could qualify for his Seal of Approval.

If the little bugger sees his shadow and we get six more weeks of winter, here is a recipe...


[This recipe came from the Mountin Makin's in the Smokies Cookbook. The note above the recipe states that this recipe was received from someone's mother-in-law.]

Ground Hog
spicewood branches
salt, pepper to taste
bacon grease or 1/2 cup shortening


1. Dress and cut it up. Put in pot, then bring to boil. Break up spicewood branches and put in pot with meat. Boil until meat is tender. Remove; then salt and pepper; then roll in flour; put in 1/2 cup shortening, preferably bacon grease. Then put in oven and bake until it is brown.

Groundhog Day


Timothy said...

i used to feed them in Minnesota. actually had them respond to a whistle to be fed. i had no idea that some parts of humanity consider them the servants of Satan! lol....i think they are cute. good article explaining the science behind weather...

Timothy said...

and interesting spin from the Upper MidWest

Timray said...

Groundhog Day
The Official Website of the Punxsatawny Ground Hog Club

Timray said...

Punxsutawney Phil & Animal Weather Predictions at Skeptic Magazine