Sunday, January 27, 2008

Is is Spring Yet? Ask the Groundhog

Groundhog Day is in two days.

That means by this weekend, we’ll know for absolute certain whether we will be blessed with an early spring or have six more weeks of winter. Well, at least that’s according to tradition.

If the groundhog emerges from his burrow on February 2 and sees his shadow, he goes back into his burrow for six more weeks of cold, snowy weather. On the other hand, if it’s cloudy and he doesn’t see his shadow, he stays out and prepares for an early spring.

Since 1887, Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania has claimed the only official national groundhog. They call him Punxsutawney Phil whom they also claim has been 100 percent accurate over the past 120 years.

I’ve always been curious as to how a single groundhog in Pennsylvania could predict the weather for the entire nation. After all, it isn’t typical that folks in Indiana share the same weather with those in Pennsylvania. And states like Oregon or Arizona would have a far different forecast. But I’m not going to quibble with alleged success.

Most of the time, Phil predicts a return to winter. But in more recent years an early spring has been a common prediction. If we are experiencing global warming, as most climatologists claim, I believe it is at least partially Phil’s fault.

His keepers, however, claim Phil has nothing to do with climate change. He only predicts the weather; he doesn’t manipulate it. But until the actual causality is proved, I’m skeptical of that claim.

At any rate, I don’t accept the myth that Phil is the only accurate weather predictor. Indiana has its share of groundhogs, too. I believe that the forecast would be more accurate if we took a poll of at least 100 Hoosier groundhogs and averaged their prognostications. We should never rely on the forecasting accuracy of a single specimen.

But that’s just my opinion. I’m no groundhog expert.

I do know, however, that groundhogs must be regarded in high esteem, because they are the only animal to rate a holiday in the United States. Even though it is not an official, no-work holiday, it still is a red-letter day on most calendars. What other animal can claim that?

So whether Phil, or any other groundhog, is perfect when it comes to climate prediction, the furry creatures are quite popular, not to mention lovable. They even made a movie about a groundhog and his special day.

The movie is called, obviously enough, Groundhog Day. It stars Bill Murray and Andie MacDowell. It is rated in the top 250 movies of all time on the Internet Movie Database, which reflects well on the popularity of the groundhog, not to mention the two starring actors.

Most people, however, don’t really celebrate Groundhog Day. No presents are exchanged and no decorations are hung on the eaves of houses. No trees are trimmed with groundhog ornaments. I believe all that should change.

My daughter and I do our parts. Every Groundhog Day we make it a point to schedule time in the evening to watch the movie. It is one of our favorites, but we only watch it on February 2. It’s a family tradition.

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