Groundhog Day

Jan 31, 2013

Scientists aren’t the only ones whose predictions are getting better.

groundhog day

The six-week period that starts on February 2nd has been getting steadily warmer in Baltimore since 1887. The warming hasn’t been uniform: you can see from the graph above that some years are cooler than average and some are warmer, but the overall trend is slowly upward. This is consistent with the rising global temperatures that climatologists have predicted with increasing certainty for decades.

But it turns out that scientists aren’t the only ones whose predictions are getting better.

America’s most famous groundhog – Punxatawney Phil, from Punxatawney, PA – comes out of his hole each Groundhog Day, like clockwork, to tell us if we can expect an early spring or another six weeks of winter. If Phil sees his shadow, he’ll go back underground to wait out the next chilly month and half. If there’s no shadow, Phil — and the rest of us — know that spring is right around the corner.

Skeptics sometimes scoff at the idea that a mere rodent, no matter how cute, can predict the weather weeks in advance. But here’s the thing…if you plot Phil the Groundhog’s historical predictions against temperatures, it almost looks like the furry forecaster is on to something. Each line represents a year when he predicted spring would come early. As you can see in the chart above, he’s gone for a long winter and a late spring most of the time. However, in recent years, he’s been calling for an early spring more and more frequently — and sure enough, spring temperatures have been rising over that same period.

Of course, nobody can possibly take any of this seriously. Still… if temperatures keep rising, and groundhogs keep looking in vain for their shadows on February 2nd, it may just be worth listening to what they have to say.

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