The Washington Post

Groundhog Day 2012: Punxsutawney Phil sees shadow, 6 more weeks of winter

Groundhog Punxsutawney Phil. (

According to folklore, Phil’s sighting of his own shadow means there will be 6 more weeks of winter. Had Phil not seen his shadow, it would have meant “there will be an early spring.”

If Phil’s forecast is right, it signals a dramatic reversal from the mild weather pattern affecting much of the country. Many parts of the central and eastern U.S. have seen temperatures 20 to 30 degrees above normal in recent days. On February 1, just 19% of the Lower 48 had snow cover compared to 52% at this time last year.

Historic odds heavily favor a forecast for winter to last deep into March. Since the Groundhog’s first prediction in 1887, Phil has seen his shadow 99 times and failed to spot it just 16 times. There are 9 missing years in the record, but Phil has issued a forecast without exception.

But just how accurate is the prognosticator of prognosticators?

View Photo Gallery: On Feb. 2, Groundhog Day, the famous rodent emerges. If he sees his shadow, in front of his Pennsylvania audience, legend says winter will last another six weeks.

It depends on the source.

The official website of Punxsutawney Phil, perhaps not impartial, claims the Groundhog has issued a correct forecast 100% of the time.

AccuWeather’s grade for the groundhog’s accuracy is slightly lower, but still quite respectable.

“Because the year’s coldest quarter, also known as meteorological winter, runs from Dec. 5 to March 5, Phil’s accuracy in predicting a longer winter is about 80 percent,” AccuWeather wrote.

But says Phil has gotten it right just 39% of the time.

NOAA’s National Climatic Data Center issued the harshest assessment of the accuracy of the “seer of seers” finding “no predictive skill for the groundhog during the most recent years” in its analysis. It concluded: It really isn’t a “bright” idea to take a measure such as a groundhog’s shadow and use it as a predictive meteorological tool for the entire United States.

Noting long-range prediction is hard, at least one scientifically-minded meteorologist expressed resentment over the attention-grabbing rodent.

“...Punxsutawney Phil is a punk when it comes to weather forecasting,” blogged Tim McGill, a meteorologist for WGN in Chicago.


Video from Assoicated Press: Punxsutawney Phil emerges from his burrow

Related links:
Groundhog Day 2012: D.C. needs local Punxsutawney Phil
Winter’s last gasp on the way?
Our gardens in a mild winter: the good, bad and beautiful
Very mild, dry January concludes in Washington, D.C.
Meteorologists congregate in New Orleans, tout building a ‘weather ready nation’

Jason is the Washington Post’s weather editor and Capital Weather Gang's chief meteorologist. He earned a master's degree in atmospheric science, and spent 10 years as a climate change science analyst for the U.S. government. He holds the Digital Seal of Approval from the National Weather Association.


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