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groundhog day

Falling midway between the Winter Solstice and the Spring Equinox, February 2 has a long history of being a day for predictions about the arrival of spring’s warmer weather. This country’s fondness for looking toward a rotund woodland creature for clues about spring’s arrival has its roots in a Pennsylvania Dutch tradition. As legend has it, if the groundhog spies its own shadow on February 2, we have six long weeks of winter ahead of us. If no, we can expect the swift arrival of more spring-like weather.

In the business of weather-prediction, Punxsutawney Phil is most often cited as the official authority, but the truth is that groundhogs across the country get rustled out of their wintry dens on February 2 and looked to for signs of spring. How much faith should we put into these furry predictors?  According to one website, Punxsutawney Phil has been given correct predictions only 39% of the time.

From my perch at my desk with a blanket covering my knees, I can say that I for one always look forward to the arrival of more moderate temperatures. But beyond my own desires to fling off the blanket and open the windows, there are good reasons to embrace a longer winter, too. In places with considerable snowfall, for instance, winter is the time for snowpack to accumulate, allowing for adequate water supplies during warmer months. For farmers, early spring can cause flowering trees to bud, leaving fragile buds exposed to potential damage by frost when cooler temperatures return. For some fruit trees, losing buds can mean also losing fruit. For honeybees, an early spring with warm temperatures might convince them to leave their hives early, expending their precious energy stores before there are the necessary flowers in bloom to feed them.

As for me, I’ll tune in to see what the groundhogs are predicting for us, but I’ll be happy to keep my blankets around a little bit long and allow winter to finish its work.

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