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Groundhog Day Predictions

Posted on Sunday, February 4, 2007 at 08:00AM by Registered CommenterMarshall Massey in , | Comments2 Comments

ew cameo.jpgOur local Omaha groundhog saw her shadow the day before yesterday.

I know she did, because she lives just down the street from me, in the storm drain where she’s sheltered and safe from predators, and I was out in the same weather she was. It was cold as Canada here that day, but the sun shone merrily all day long: we were smack in the middle of a high pressure zone, where frigid arctic air was pouring down upon us from the top of the troposphere, driving the clouds away in all directions.

I gave my wife a Groundhog Day present: new flannel sheets from Garnet Hill, both a luxury and a necessity when we use a setback thermostat to save heat at night — and then I trundled off to work. “Happy Groundhog Day!” I said to all and sundry when I got there.

But I guess Omaha isn’t a groundhog kind of place. Most folks looked blankly at me. A few said, “Oh, yeah, I heard something about it in the news.”

*Sigh*. Groundhog Day was pretty big back east where I grew up. But I suppose it’d be unfair of me to expect the natives of this Upper Midwest state to share the high folklore of the region where I was young.


The noble groundhog, getting by in human territory. (Image from Wikipedia.)

I kinda wonder if there isn’t some sort of superstition the natives around here might cherish in place of groundhog lore. Because the itch to have ways of foretelling the winter is an awfully widespread itch.

Go up to the Yukon and the Indians will tell you how they tell how severe the winter will be by the shape of the tracks the snowshoe hares leave in the ground. Go to Tennessee, and the mountain folk will tell you how they predict the severity of the cold by the markings on the fur of the woolly bear caterpillar. In the Northeast there are those who check to see how bushy the squirrels’ tails are, and those who look to see how high the wasps are building their nests.

There’s a bit of humor bound up in the Groundhog Day superstition, though, that holds a particular appeal for me. After all, the supposed bad news, if the groundhog sees her shadow, is that we’re in for six more weeks of winter. But if you count six weeks from Groundhog Day, February 2, it gets you not quite all the way to the vernal equinox, the first day of spring. So in other words, we’d be in for six more weeks of winter in any case. It’s one folk prediction that just can’t help but come true.

Still, there is global warming. So perhaps we shouldn’t take those six weeks of winter for granted.

It was only coincidence that the latest report from the IPCC — the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change — happened to hit the press on Groundhog Day. But it was a meaningful coincidence, at least to me; because the thrust of this report, agreed upon by scientific representatives of 154 countries (and accordingly written with enough conservativism to please them all) was that we cannot go on counting on those six more weeks much longer.

For any of you who may have missed the news, this was the first time the IPCC admitted that global warming is definitely underway, and that it is almost certain humans are the cause. The new report says scientists’ “best estimate” is that global temperatures will rise 3.2° to 7.2°F by 2100. (By comparison, all the wierd weather that’s developed since the 1960s has happened in the context of just an 0.6° to 0.8° degree global warming.)

The report also foresees that the warming will “continue for centuries” even if humans rein their greenhouse gas production in. God only knows what the planet will feel like at the end of that time.

IPCC scenarios

Three alternate scenarios evaluated by the IPCC, as to how the planet will warm in the course of the current century.

But all of that was no surprise to anyone who’s thought the matter through. What interested me a whole lot more was a survey published a few days earlier last week, reported on by Reuters — a poll of more than 25,000 Internet users in forty-six countries by the respected firm of ACNielsen.

The survey found that thirteen per cent of Americans said they’d never heard or read about global warming. This was rather worse than the rest of the globe; only nine per cent of people world-wide had never heard or read of the issue.

World-wide, fifty-seven per cent of the public rated global warming a “very serious problem”. Latin America held the most deeply concerned populace, with seventy-five per cent rating global warming “very serious”. The United States populace was the least concerned, with only forty-two per cent calling it “very serious”.

People in China and Brazil were the ones most convinced that the warming is caused by human activities. People in the U.S. were the least convinced.

We are coming along; we’re getting better. The change in Washington’s mood is a sign (although we may note that it has yet to led to any meaningful action.)

ew tiny.pngBut we’re still not checking our shadows as we might.

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Reader Comments (2)

Isn't it amazing how governments fail to act until the crisis is almost upon their heads!

I always thought of Groundhog Day as kind of a silly occasion. But I see it now in a different light. Too bad we can't get more of these traditional weathercraft events into the common calendar so that we can all become more aware of the way things were done before radar.

Feb 22, 2007 at 10:19AM | Unregistered CommenterNancy A

Hi, Nancy! Thanks very much for your comments.

No one who actually knows the noble groundhog, like the one just down the street from me, would call the holiday in her honor mere silliness. Do you realize that it is the only day all year long when North Americans honor any sort of rodent? Shame on us North Americans!

Feb 27, 2007 at 06:50AM | Registered CommenterMarshall Massey

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