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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Punxatawny Phil may be right about winter

From mid-December through early January, the Inland Northwest saw the most snow it’s seen in recorded history. During the past four weeks, we’ve seen much less snow. Ski resorts are now wondering when the snow machine is going to get cranking again.

After enduring those storms and below-freezing temperatures, some are beginning to ask, “When does spring get here?”

On Monday, the world’s most famous groundhog, Punxsutawney Phil, the Pennsylvania woodchuck, made his annual appearance. Each Feb. 2 at precisely 7:25 a.m., he is hauled out of his fake tree stump on Gobbler’s Knob, about 2 miles east of town, to see if he can see his shadow, which he did on Monday.

If Phil 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 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. Since 1887, the groundhog has seen his shadow 97 times and didn’t see it on 15 occasions (there’s no record for the other nine years).

As in most examples of weather folklore, there is some truth in Phil seeing his shadow and therefore predicting six more weeks of winter. Clear skies this time of year usually mean that a strong, cold ridge of high pressure is over the area. As the days progress, the high usually breaks down and is replaced by low pressure and storms. 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. If the sun came out on that particular day, winter would last for six more weeks.

Since we’re in a cooler than normal cycle of sea-surface temperatures of La Niña and low sunspot activity, the odds favor more wintry weather in the Inland Northwest. Some snow should fall during next week’s full moon lunar cycle, delighting outdoor enthusiasts.

Our best chance for milder than normal weather is not expected until mid-April, but once it gets here, that warmer cycle should last until late June.

Contact Randy Mann at randy@longrangeweather.com.
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