Why you shouldn’t trust Punxsutawney Phil’s predictions

Inner Circle President Bill Deeley shows Punxsutawney Phil to tourists a day before Groundhog Day in Punxsutawney, Pa., on Monday, Feb. 1, 2016. Members of the Inner Circle planned to reveal their forecast at sunrise Tuesday. A German legend says that if a furry rodent sees his shadow on Feb. 2, winter will last an additional six weeks. If not, spring comes early. In reality, Phil’s “prediction” is decided ahead of time by the group. (Mark Pynes/PennLive.com via AP)

(WISH) — We’re officially at the halfway point of winter, which just happens to also fall on Groundhog Day this year. It’s the day in which a twenty pound ground rodent “emerges” from his temporary lair on Gobbler’s Knob to predict what we will see weather wise for the remainder of the winter season.

Groundhog Club handler Ron Ploucha holds Punxsutawney Phil, the weather prognosticating groundhog, during the 131st celebration of Groundhog Day on Gobbler’s Knob in Punxsutawney, Pa. Thursday, Feb. 2, 2017. Phil’s handlers said that the groundhog has forecast six more weeks of winter weather. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

The well-known tradition began in 1887 in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania and is rooted in a Celtic and Germanic tradition that says, “if a hibernating animal casts a shadow on February 2, the Pagan holiday of Imbolc (known among Christians as Candlemas), winter and cold weather will last another six weeks. If no shadow is seen, legend says, spring will come early.” The event went from local fun to global celebration in the early 1990s with the release of the movie “Groundhog Day,” starring Bill Murray.

FILE- In this Feb. 2, 2017, file photo, Groundhog Club handler John Griffiths holds Punxsutawney Phil, the weather prognosticating groundhog, during the 131st celebration of Groundhog Day on Gobbler’s Knob in Punxsutawney, Pa. Punxsutawney Phil’s handlers are set to announce at sunrise Friday, Feb. 2, 2018, what kind of weather they say the rodent is predicting for the rest of winter. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar, File)

The Punxsutawney Groundhog Club Inner Circle, a group easily recognizable by their top hats and tuxedos, is in charge of planning the annual ceremony. As Punxsutawney Phil emerges, he whispers to the president of the inner circle (in “Groundhogese”) whether or not he has seen his shadow, after which the vice-president reads from the correct scroll to the gathered masses whether or not we will see 6 more weeks of winter or an early spring. If the groundhogese language didn’t raise any flags, let us not forget the time Phil somehow saw his shadow in 2015 as a heavy snowstorm was pushing through Punxsutawney.

A convenient technicality for Phil – even if he predicts 6 more weeks of winter as he does more often than not, we have 46 more calendar days of winter left anyway (or 47 on days when spring begins on March 21) which means he is 100% right every time. In fact, we should thank Phil for cutting off 3 or 4 days off of our winter season… or should we? 

 

Unfortunately, from a meteorological standpoint, Phil has a fairly dismal prognostication track-record. Just last year, Phil saw his shadow and predicted six more weeks of winter. Again, while technically correct from a calendar standpoint, the contiguous United States recorded above average temperatures in both February and March of 2017. In just the past 10 years, he was only correct 50% of the time and over his entire history, the overrated and over-sized ground rodent has only been 39% correct.

Since 1887, he has predicted an early spring only 18 times compared to 103 continued winters and 10 years without a recorded answer. I’m assuming those 10 years in the late 19th century, the people of Punxsutawney briefly caught on to Phil’s shenanigans, but then reluctantly gave him another shot for the next 100+ years anyway.

Now that we’ve had some fun at Phil’s expense, here’s what the professionals are saying about the next 1-3 months. We have better chances than not of seeing below average temperatures throughout most of Indiana and the Midwest in addition to slightly better than average odds for precipitation.

   

Over the next 3 months, February-April, forecasters at the NOAA NWS Climate Prediction Center are hinting at similarly below average temps and higher than normal precipitation for central Indiana in their outlooks. Perhaps Phil might be onto something this year!