Groundhog Day


2014-02-02 – I shoveled snow again yesterday. Friday they were predicting as much as a foot of snow, but I shoveled, maybe, four inches.

When I heard the forecast yesterday, I was surprised. It didn’t quite fit with what I saw out the window. I’m not sure what it was that made me feel that way, so I pulled up a radar map. There was a small line of snow south of Chicago, but it was traveling away from us. The rest of the area was clear, all the way to Minnesota and into Canada. So where was this big snow going to be coming from? Don’t the forecasters look at their own maps?

This morning, another forecaster makes his appearance: the groundhog. Of course, the groundhog isn’t really forecasting. If anything, the groundhog is responding to changes in the weather. Most likely, the groundhog’s behavior has nothing to do with the weather. Most likely, he is just a symbol of changes that happen every year at this time.

Take a look at average temperatures for Chicago for the month of January. They are basically the same every day from the start to the finish of the month. The average temperature is 24 degrees, with a high of 31 and a low of 17. These figures vary only one degree for the whole month!

Then click over to February and what starts happening the day after Groundhog Day? The temperature starts creeping up. By the end of the month, we gain about 8 degrees! If you go backward and look at December, you see a mirror image of February. Clearly, January is the boring depth of winter in this part of the world and February is the beginning of the end of that.

I’m not saying that this year was an average year. I’m talking about a pattern over many years.

Here’s another pattern that is even more predictable than air temperature: sunrise and sunset. In Chicago, the amount of daylight we get drops to a tad above 9 hours, as of the Winter Solstice on December 21. As of this week, we’ve passed 10 hours of daylight. This will continue to increase to a bit over 15 hours, as of the Summer Solstice on June 21.

What this means to me, given my work schedule, is that the sun is now brightening the sky when I walk from the train station to my office. At the end of the day, I can see the setting sun when I get off the train on the way home.

We laugh at a folk tradition like Groundhog Day. Us modern scientific people turn to the US Weather Service forecasts. We watch on TV. We ping their sites on the Internet. We have apps on our phones. But who is more accurate, the high tech forecaster or the groundhog?

* * *

I guess it is the hopeful turn of the weather that made me want to get married on Groundhog Day—23 years ago. It was 60 degrees on that day. Happy anniversary Kit!

2 responses to “Groundhog Day

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