Groundhog Day Is One of Our Dumber American Traditions

You'd be better off flipping a coin

By Kirk Miller

 
Groundhog Day
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02 February 2017

Punxsutawney Phil saw his shadow on Thursday morning at 7:25 a.m. That means a long winter awaits.

We say: Break out the swimwear.

Groundhog Day is a tradition that serves little practical purpose beyond reminding us that Bill Murray was, is and will continue to be THE MAN (“Phil? Phil Connors?”) and providing a small Pennsylvania town with some much-needed cash flow (according to the travel site Trivago, hotel rates in Punxsutawney today run about $100 higher than hotels in Houston for this weekend's Super Bowl).

As the Washington Post snarked, Phil was “wrong before he even woke up” and noted that our rodent friend predicted an early spring lat year “during what was almost a record-strong El Nino.” So he’s wrong. Does he deserve the death penalty? No. Should he kill himself? No. Suffer from existential dread? Nah.

But he’s open to critique. The National Climatic Data Center says Phil has no recent “no predictive skill,” although AccuWeather points out that Phil has a rather strong 80 percent accuracy rate in predicting a longer winter over the previous 120 tries (records don’t exist for a few early years; #suspicious). That said, Phil’s only hit it right on 13 of his last 28 tries, and some of his “successes” involve mixed seasons of unseasonably cold Februaries followed by warmer-than-average Marches.

And while we’re at it, people can’t even seem to agree on what months or days constitute the season that Phil is supposedly reporting on, or what temperatures qualify him as right or wrong: LiveScience pegs Phil’s accuracy at closer to 39 percent.

History doesn’t offer much help, noting the day is rooted in an obscure German holiday. "An early association between the weather forecast and the religious observance is found in a Scottish couplet: 'If Candlemas is fair and clear / There'll be two winters in the year,'" noted AccuWeather Chief Forecaster Elliot Abrams last year. "If the weather is 'fair,' the groundhog sees its shadow, and this is supposed to mean six more weeks of winter. This is somewhat like saying that despite the sunshine on Groundhog Day, more winter is due."

Overall, we’re gonna give Phil a break: After all, he threatened to impose 60 weeks of winter if he wasn’t allowed to drink during Prohibition.

Then there's Phil’s nemesis, Staten Island Chuck, who thinks we’ll have an early spring (of course, he’s both an asshole and been tortured, so ... take that with a grain of salt).

Much like the Farmer’s Almanac, your best bet is to ignore all warnings. Or flip a coin. You’ll stand a better chance.

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