THURSDAY, FEB. 9, 2012

Groundhog’s shadow indicates more winter, or not

Punxsutawney Phil, the Pennsylvania woodchuck, made his annual appearance last Thursday. Each year on Feb. 2, he is hauled out of his fake tree stump at precisely 7:25 a.m. to see if he can see his shadow. What began as a small gathering in 1887 has now evolved into a scene of tens of thousands of visitors from around the world.

According to legend, if Phil catches his shadow, he’s scared back into his den for six more weeks of slumber. The winter, in turn, will drag on for at least another six weeks. If Phil does not see his shadow, then spring is right around the corner.

This year Punxsutawney Phil saw his shadow, meaning six more weeks of winter. Phil has now seen his shadow 100 times out of 116 times since 1887.

Temperatures back East have been unseasonably warm, so folks in Pennsylvania aren’t worried about six more weeks of rather tame weather, especially when compared to the extremely harsh winter of 2010-’11.

It looks like Alaska and parts of Eastern Europe will have six more weeks of winter. In the Ukraine, for example, it’s been the coldest winter since at least 1966.

Like in most examples of weather folklore, there is some truth in Phil seeing his shadow and winter lasting six more weeks. Clear skies this time of year usually mean that a strong cold ridge of high pressure is over the area. High pressure ridges usually follow a six-week cycle: two weeks to build, two more weeks to peak and two additional weeks to move out of a particular region.

In our area, it looks like we’ll see a change in the pattern next week that will lead to some rain and snow. However, the snowiest part of our winter season has ended. Snowfall totals in the lower elevations will likely end up near or below normal levels, but there will be plenty of snow in the higher mountains.

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