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Opinion

Groundhog predicts six weeks of winter with questionable veracity

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February 21, 2014

Groundhog Day has come and gone, and we already know that the groundhog predicted six more weeks of winter. But how can we know if a rodent’s predictions are even accurate?

The weather pattern lately has been a confusing one, going from extreme subzero weather to a beautiful 40 degree day. Just when we think it is finally going to warm up and turn into spring, it just gets cold again. Does that mean that winter will stick around until May again? Or is winter just going out strong before the big thaw in a few short weeks? The early February holiday has people wondering for many weeks whether it is reliable.

Groundhog Day began in central and southeastern Pennsylvania, as a Pennsylvanian German custom, in the 18th and 19th centuries. The holiday has roots that trace back as far as ancient Europe, where weather lore used a badger or sacred bear to predict the weather.

The legend has it that if the groundhog pops his head out and see its shadow, he goes back in for six more weeks. If it is cloudy, he stays out in the moderate weather. Today, the biggest Groundhog Day event is held annually in Punxsutawney, Penn., attracting a crowd sometimes as large as 40,000 people.

As for how accurate the little groundhog is, past organizers of the event claim that the groundhog is accurate about 75 to 90 percent of the time. However, regions in both Canada and the United States alike have begged to differ. For the past 30 to 40 years, 13 cities in Canada found that the groundhog’s predictions were only accurate 37 percent of the time.

Here in the United States, the Weather Almanac stated that the predictions out of Punxsutawney have only been reliable 39 percent of the time. Meteorologists state that the groundhog is ultimately not reliable and does not have special talent for predicting spring’s arrival. Personally, I have always been skeptical of Groundhog Day. There is no possible way that weather predictions are universal; they vary from region to region.

For example, northern Minnesota is going to have a longer winter than might Ohio or even Iowa could have. It can only hold true for regions that actually have a spring, or at least one that is longer than just a few weeks. I wish his predictions were true, as this has been one of the worst winters we have had in a while. However, I am keeping my hopes up that we will see spring in early April rather than mid- May.

Even though the groundhog gets our hopes up that winter will not last much longer, I do not believe he is a reliable source.

In reality, there is no sure way of knowing when spring will arrive and winter will be out for good because forecasts change all the time. Every year is different and unpredictable. The weeks ahead are supposed to gradually be warmer but we will just have to wait and see.

Cristin Dempsey is an English major and music minor from Eagan, Minn. She enjoys writing, playing the flute and swimming. After college she would like to pursue a career as an editor.