For more than 100 years, millions of Americans have looked to Punxsutawney Phil for the latest outlook when it comes to spring. Early Thursday morning for the 131st time, Phil immerged from the ground to check on his shadow. Phil did see his shadow, which, by tradition, marks six more weeks of winter. But how accurate is Phil and should people believe him?
The National Centers for Environmental Information reported that Phil has been right 50 percent of the time over the last 10 years. On the other hand, the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration said that Phil has been right only 29 percent of the time, while the official groundhog club said Phil has been 100 percent accurate. Forecasting is not an easy feat, especially when dealing with a country as massive as America that has a multitude of climates.
So how did Groundhog Day get its name, and why do so many flock to the nearest groundhog when Feb. 2 rolls around? Legend has it that Germans, back in the 18th century, believed that if Candlemas (Feast of the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary and Fest of the Presentation of our Lord Jesus) was sunny and an animal saw its shadow, then more winter weather was on the way. This custom traveled west when Germans migrated to Pennsylvania and took on a tradition all on its on.
In the Northern Hemisphere, Feb. 2, or Groundhog Day, marks the middle point between the winter solstice and vernal equiniox (spring). It's this day that many look to each year to determine just how long until spring arrives.
So with Phil seeing his shadow, which allegedly marks six more weeks of winter, just how right will he be this year? One could argue that Mid-Missouri has been dealt a mild hand this winter, with a few days of brutally cold Arctic air. Information provided by the National Weather Service in St. Louis shows the following for this winter:
- December - 77th warmest month 31.9 degrees (Average 33.4)
- January - 15th warmest month 35.5 degrees (Average 29.6)
So where does this put the area for February?
Latest model outlooks show the going trend of a mild winter with occasional blasts of Arctic air are going to hold true. For most of the winter, the polar jet has been to the north, keeping the cold air locked in place and the storm tracks out of our area. This pattern will likely hold, as the Arctic continues to experience one of the warmest winters on record with the likelihood of the least amount of sea ice ever to start the year 2017.
The Climate Prediction Center in their latest outlook has Mid-Missouri seeing an equal chance of above/below average temperatures through March. Of course, while residents will experience several days of a spring tease, long term models are showing several blasts of arctic air as the area heads through the rest of February and into early March. Winter is far from over, but at halfway to the official start of spring, daily temperatures will continue to climb.