Groundhog Predicts More Winter and Flight Delays

By Paul Riegler on 2 February 2014
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Punxsutawney Phil and friends

Punxsutawney Phil and friends

The nation’s most prominent groundhogs were united in their forecast Sunday as they briefly exited their burrows and saw their shadows.  According to tradition, when a groundhog sees his shadow, it means six more weeks of winter.  The absence of a shadow is said to mean that spring is near.

Punxsutawney Phil, perhaps the most prominent of the group, emerged at 7:28 a.m. local time and made his prognostication in front of thousands of onlookers in the town whose name he bears.  In New York City, Staten Island Chuck appeared in front of his fans, which included Mayor Bill de Blasio.  After meeting with the local celebrity, the mayor said: “Chuck has spoken, everyone. It’s a cold, hard reality, but live by the groundhog, die by the groundhog.”

The current winter season has caused a higher number of flight delays and cancellations than normal.  In January, almost 50,000 flights were cancelled and 175,000 were delayed in the U.S., according to FlightStats, a flight-tracking service.

Already, several storms are forecast for the coming week including one moving from the southern Plains on Sunday to the mid-Atlantic coast on Monday, and a storm that will likely bring wind-driven snow from portions of the central and southern Plains to the middle part of the Great Lakes in the middle of the week, eventually bringing significant snowfall to pats of western, central, and Upstate New York and northern New England.

Groundhog Day is on February 2, which also represents the midpoint of the winter season, as it is halfway between the start of winter on the shortest day of the year, December 21, and the spring equinox.  The tradition of Groundhog Day may stem from German immigrants to Pennsylvania, who celebrated Candlemas Day or Mariä Lichtmess, and who brought with them the myth that, if the day were sunny, a hedgehog would cast its shadow and that would mean snow well into spring.  They substituted a groundhog for a hedgehog to continue the tradition in the U.S.

Punxsutawney Phil has a decidedly mixed record in forecasting.  According to the National Climatic Data Center in Asheville, North Carolina, in the period 1988 through 2012, the groundhog was right ten times and wrong 15.  Officials in New York City said that Staten Island Chuck has an 82% accuracy rate.

(Photo: Aaron  Silvers)

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