February 4, 2010 in Washington Voices

Groundhog’s forecast has a shadow of truth

Randy Mann
 

Two days ago, the famous groundhog, Punxsutawney Phil, saw his shadow. While our region has observed milder temperatures with below normal snowfall, it’s certainly been a tough winter for many folks east of the Rockies.

Phil is hauled out of his fake tree stump on Gobbler’s Knob, about 2 miles east of Punxsutawney, Pa., every Feb. 2 at 7:25 a.m. to see if he can see his shadow. The town celebrates this event with a festive atmosphere of music and food.

If Phil supposedly catches his shadow, he’s scared back into his den for six more weeks of slumber. The winter season, in turn, will drag on for least another six weeks. If Phil does not see his shadow, then spring is right around the corner. Believe it or not, approximately 90 percent of the time, Phil sees his shadow. This was the case on Tuesday.

Like in most examples of weather folklore, there is an ounce of truth in Phil seeing his shadow and therefore predicting six more weeks of winter. Clear skies at this time of year usually mean that a strong cold ridge of high pressure is over the area. There is a six-week cycle to high pressure ridges. They often take two weeks to build, two more weeks to peak and two additional weeks to move out of a particular region or zone. Hence, perhaps, six more weeks of winter.

The legend of Groundhog Day is based on an old Scottish couplet: “If Candlemas Day is bright and clear, there’ll be two winters in the year.” Candlemas Day was a Christian holiday that celebrated Mary’s ritual purification. They believed that if the sun came out on that particular day, winter would last for six more weeks.

Many residents of the Inland Northwest are wondering if we’re going to see colder and snowier weather before winter ends. Last month, our average temperature was 7.8 degrees above normal at the airport. Precipitation was a little below average levels, with a January total of 1.54 inches. The normal is 1.82 inches.

February’s temperatures should start turning cooler with an increasing chance of snowfall as we head toward the middle of the month. Overall, precipitation is expected to be a little above average this month. The upcoming spring season is looking a bit cooler and wetter.

Contact Randy Mann at randy@longrange weather.com


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