Today is Sunday, February 2, 2014.
It’s Groundhog Day, the day when a groundhog is supposed to come out of his burrow underground to scout out the weather. If it’s sunny, the groundhog will see his shadow, and, frightened, he will head back underground for six more weeks of winter. If it’s cloudy, he will not see his shadow and stay out of his burrow, which means an early spring.
Of course, spring arrives in the Northern Hemisphere just about six weeks after Groundhog Day, regardless. This year it will arrive, according to the position of the sun, on March 20. In the northern states of the U.S., however, the Vernal Equinox doesn’t mean springlike weather. In fact, there is often still snow on the ground, and some of the early spring storms are really severe. Last year here in South Dakota, we were visited by a blizzard in mid-April and an ice storm in early May. Even in years when there is no snow on the ground, there has generally been enough snowfall that the earth is soggy from snowmelt, and places without grass are muddy. In addition, there is generally so much salt residue on the roads that they are nearly white, and the normal lane markings on the street are nearly invisible. Melted snow puddles at the sides of the streets, and cars that go too near the side of the street will splash water all over any pedestrians unlucky enough to be walking nearby. (I had a beautiful forest-green coat totally ruined that way, and I’m sure the driver was a teenager who did it on purpose.) There has generally been so much sand spread on the streets that the gutters are full of black snow and sand, mixed with stubborn ice crystals. The wind tends to be raw, and even when the sun is shining, you can’t really feel it on your shoulders.
Given the above observations, my personal signs of spring are the following:
1. The sun actually feels warm on your shoulders, and if you leave your car parked in a sunny spot all day, the steering wheel is actually warm to the touch.
2. The puddles of muddy water at the sides of the street have dried up, and the mud has solidified and dried, as well.
3. The street sweepers have finally cleaned the salt off the streets and the sand from the gutters.
4. All the snow has melted on the shady side of the street and from the places where it was piled up on purpose by the snowplow.
5. You can go outside sans scarf, hat or mittens, without regretting your decision to leave them at home. The air is softer, almost balmy, without the bite of mid-winter.
Notice, of course, that I did not give the usual harbingers of spring: green grass, buds on the trees, flowers in bloom, or gentle breezes blowing. That’s because, if your location is above 40˚N latitude, you will not experience these things until at least late April, if not sometime in May. In fact, that’s why I don’t really believe spring is here, weather-wise, until at least mid-May. Flowers, around here, really don’t bloom outdoors until May at the very earliest, even in years when the weather is mild.
There are several famous groundhogs that give a forecast.
Groundhog Shipoke Sheena, who hails from Harrisburg, PA, is very shy and apparently never appears in public. She gave her prediction early; she says it will be a hard winter, but an early spring.
Groundhog Punxsutawney Phil, from Punxsutawney, PA, has also spoken. He predicts that there will be six more weeks of winter. His success rate for predictions is only 39%, however.
Groundhog Staten Island Chuck, from Staten Island, NY, has an 80% accuracy rate. He agrees with Phil; expect six more weeks of winter this year.
Groundhog General Beauregard Lee in suburban Atlanta, GA boasts a 94% accuracy rate. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find a prediction from him online at press time. Oh, well…
What do you think? 🙂