February 2 is Groundhog Day each year. Why?
Most people know that we track seasons by tracking four dates by the earth’s position or tilt while orbiting the sun. These days mark the beginning of the four seasons. Summer solstice is June 21st, fall equinox is September 23rd, winter solstice is December 21st and spring equinox is March 21st.
Very nice Ramblin’ Ron, but what is your point? Oh! Yes, Groundhog Day on February 2nd.
Groundhog Day is equal distant between the winter solstice and the spring equinox. This day marks the midpoint of winter. Celebrating this day goes back to a Celtic pagan celebration called Imbolc. Celts were more optimistic than we are and marked this day as the begging of spring.
Later the Christians borrowed the pagan celebration for their own, renamed it Candlemas and marked the day to commemorate the day that Jesus was introduced to the Jerusalem temple. A sunny Candlemas was believed to indicate an additional 40 days of winter.
The German’s took this sunny Candlemas tradition and defined the term sunny as a day when the badgers and other animals could see their shadow. When Pennsylvania became inhabited by a large number of German immigrants, the tradition was extended to the United States. Groundhogs are native to Pennsylvania and quickly became the official Candlemas rodent in the US.
How’s that for bringing an odd tradition around to our seasonal science?
The first official celebration of Groundhog Day was on February 2, 1887 in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, and continues to this day. Upon watching a YouTube replay of the ceremony today, it was clear by the roar of the crowd after six more weeks of winter was pronounced that a live crowd was indeed present. However, the large crowd was virtual. Mark one more tradition as altered by the virus….sigh.
This is the 106th time that Punxsutawney Phil has predicted six more weeks of winter during his 133-year prognostication run. How often is he accurate? Roughly 50%, no different than any other weather forecaster…
Other bizarre methods have been used to predict the weather through the years. Some geriatrics claim to sense changes in weather by pain in their joints or muscles. To measure temperature the Farmer’s Almanac says that on a hot day to count the number of cricket chirps in 14 seconds and add 40. Low flying birds are an indicator of impending rain.
This may not count, but it is said that animals will act oddly by scurrying around and ‘freak out’ right before an earthquake. The USGA prefers to use electronic methods, but China and Japan give animals much more street credit as early warning systems by setting up zoos as early indicator stations. China was able to safely evacuate Wuhan in 1975 before an earthquake thanks to zoo animals banging their heads against doors.
It’s been a pretty mild winter temperature wise so far, at least in Wisconsin. We are a hearty bunch and should have no problem surviving the next 6 weeks. This is the most snow we’ve received since 2001 and if the prediction for Thursday is accurate, we will receive another 4” to 6” of snow to relocate. Our mailbox has somewhere between 6” and 12” to spare before it is buried.
The Farmer’s Almanac predicted what I just described in the last paragraph. As an old farm boy from Nebraska I will continue to heed what this periodical tells us each year. Winter enthusiast, enjoy.
Those of you hoping for an early spring. One thing I’ve noticed about living in Wisconsin, you don’t really have spring anyway. It may as well be a winter playland until summer.