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February 17, 2012

Grading the Groundhogs

What did the groundhog predict this year? Well, it depends on which groundhog you’re talking about.

There are now approximately 52 meteorological-inclined woodchucks in North America. ForecastWatch recently compiled a list of their various forecasts to determine which ones are most accurate.

If groundhog prognostications are to be trusted, those seeking an early spring should take a liking to the furry forecasters, whose efforts have been celebrated since 1887. Nearly 70 percent did not see their shadow, therefore predicting an early spring. Only 16 groundhogs saw their shadow, suggesting – according to folklore – that six more weeks of winter are in store.

While the largest number of groundhog forecasters reside in Punxsutawney Phil’s home state of Pennsylvania, where there are a total of ten, the tradition takes place far and wide, encompassing most states east of the Mississippi from Canada to Cuba. There are five such forecasters in Canada, New York and North Carolina. Even Cuba, in the form of a banana rat named Guantanamo Jay, boasts a means of predicting late winter weather based on animal behavior.

In some areas with multiple groundhogs, there were conflicting forecasts. In North Carolina, for example, Grady, Queen Charlotte and Sir Walter Wally ran for cover after seeing their shadows while Mortimer and Nibbles saw nothing. And in Pennsylvania, four of ten groundhogs saw their shadow.

In Wisconsin, there is groundhog consensus for an early spring. Betty, Jimmy the Groundhog and Wynter all did not see their shadows, historically foretelling an early spring for a region whose entire winter has already been somewhat springlike.

While you’re not likely to see groundhogs appearing before greenscreens taking viewers through radars and futurecasts, they do have more creative names than their human counterparts. Rather than Joe Bastardi and Jim Cantore, groundhog monikers include the likes of Chattanooga Chuck (Tennessee), Sir Thomas Hastings (Nebraska), Shubenacadie Sam (Nova Scotia) and Woodstock Willie (Illinois).

Alas, not all groundhogs charged with predicting weather for February and March are real. When not officially of the Marmota monax species, the furry predictors can be humans in costume (six instances) or even stuffed animals (nine times).

However, for weather enthusiasts and casual weather observers, what matters most is the accuracy of groundhog predictions. ForecastWatch, the leading provider of weather accuracy assessments for meteorologists, is tracking the accuracy of this most celebrated example of weather folklore. For a listing of North America’s weather-predicting groundhogs and their actual predictions, visit Groundhog Day 2012.



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