Groundhogs, Museums & Snow...Oh My!

It's Groundhog Day...again!  Ahh, the classic line from the movie featuring Bill Murry that came out back in the 90s is a comical look at this day on the calendar. This movie not only shows how this small town in Pennsylvania enjoys basking in the glow of their local celebrity providing a "forecast", but also gives residents and tourists alike a reason to have a big party.  Puxsutawney Phil is the "granddaddy of them all" when it comes to making a guess at what may be ahead for the rest of the winter season.  Much of the year, Phil enjoys some luxury accommodations but every February 2nd his home is a tree stump at Gobbler's Knob in the heart of Puxustawney. As the tradition goes, at sunrise on Groundhog Day he is pulled out of his burrow to provide a judgment on whether or not he sees his shadow.  It sounds pretty simple, but having gone to school at Penn State, just a little over an hour away from the groundhog's home, sometimes his prediction is contrary to the sky conditions.  I can remember a couple of times where it was completely overcast and yet Phil somehow saw his shadow.  I do think that Phil's Inner Circle (that's what they call those gentlemen in the top hats) may provide their own insight into the forecast before they make the official proclamation.

Nevertheless, we've also got Jimmy in Sun Prairie who made an appearance Tuesday.  Based on the forecast for a cloudy sky with light snow falling, I doubt he'll see his shadow.  Thus his outlook would be for an early spring.   Here's some statistics to consider in the wake of these critter's forecasts.  A study done by the National Climatic Data Center found that Punxsutawney Phil was on target about 39% of the time. In addition, over the past 100+ years, 87% of the time he has called for 6 more weeks of winter, leaving only 13% of the time saying an early spring is ahead. Taking into account the past 10 years, Phil only predicted twice that a warm up was forthcoming. Thus the skill in these forecasts are not that great, considering you've got better odds just going by what the calendar says. Nevertheless, I went a bit more in-depth to compare both Phil's and Jimmy in Sun Prairie's forecasts along with what actually happened in North Central Wisconsin over the recent years.

Year          Phil                     Jimmy                   End Result in Wausau
2010     More Winter       Early Spring                          ???????
2009     More Winter       More Winter       Seasonably Chilly-Still Winter
2008     More Winter       Early Spring               Cold & Wintry
2007     Early Spring      More Winter           Cold Feb/Warm March
2006     More Winter       Early Spring          Around Avg-Still Winter
2005     More Winter       Early Spring          Warm Feb/Cold March
2004     More Winter       Early Spring          Around Avg-Still Winter

Punxsutawney is not only the focal point to celebrate Groundhog Day, but also is home of the Weather Discovery Center.  In addition to inspiring kids (and those kids at heart) to learn more about different aspects of weather and the atmosphere, it also houses The Meteorologist Hall of Fame.  I would say this is a national hall of fame of meteorologists, but so far the only folks not from PA are a couple on-air personalities from The Weather Channel.  Granted it is only in the 4th year of existence, but you've got to start somewhere, so why not close to home.  Anyhow, I want to congratulate a past professor of mine at Penn State University, host of the popular statewide program Weather World and the State Climatologist of Pennsylvania, Mr. Paul Knight on being inducted into the hall on Groundhog Day.  He is certainly deserving of the honor and I can only guess his co-host on Weather World, Fred Gadomski is on the list for future inclusion.  Both have been mainstays in the Meteorology Department at Penn State for over 3 decades and have passed along their knowledge and humor to all of their students over the years.

Meantime, the weather in the Wisconsin River Valley, regardless of what Jimmy or Phil say, appears to stay chilly and free of a major winter storm up into the middle of the month.  This holds true to an El Nino winter weather pattern, where the southern jet stream features the bulk of the stormy weather, while here in the Badger State it's a bit drier.  So just like I mentioned last year here on the blog, keep those shovels handy and the winter coat too for at least the next couple of months.

Here are a few other fun links to check out:
National Climatic Data Center-Groundhog Day Special Report
Jimmy in Sun Prairie
Wisconsin Historical Site on Jimmy the Groundhog
Buckeye Chuck
General Beauregard Lee

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