February 02, 2018

Early this morning, Punxsutawney Phil - a 'weather forecasting' groundhog in the US - saw his shadow. According to Groundhog Day lore, this signals six more weeks of winter-like conditions. But what is Groundhog Day? How accurately do groundhogs predict the weather? What do actual climate models predict for the US and Canada in the coming weeks?

Groundhog Day: A Brief History

On Feb. 2 of each year, the US and Canada celebrate Groundhog Day. This seemingly odd holiday has roots back to the 1800s, with the first official observance taking place in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, in 1887. Since then, the holiday has spread throughout the US and into parts of Ontario, Quebec, and Nova Scotia, Canada. The tradition is based on a Pennsylvania Dutch/German superstition. If a groundhog, a very common hibernating animal found in parts of North America, sees its shadow after exiting its burrow (noting a clear day with sunshine), winter-like conditions will persist for six more weeks. If clouds obstruct the sunshine and the groundhog does not see its shadow, then spring-like conditions will arrive early.

Punxsutawney Phil's Accuracy

The holiday usually generates significant media attention, and the event that takes place in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania can attract over 40,000 live spectators. Punxsutawney Phil, arguably the most famous weather-predicting groundhog in the world, has forecasted an early spring only 18 times since recordkeeping began in 1887. Despite the rodent's overwhelming tendency to see his shadow, various organizations, including the National Geographic Society and the Farmer's Almanac, have analyzed Phil's accuracy to be only 39-50 percent.

La Nina Conditions to Prevail

Despite the Groundhog Day prediction, weather conditions in the US and Canada through mid-March will probably follow similar trends that are associated with the current La Niña pattern. The US National Climate Prediction Center (NCDC) predicts that February 2018 will bring warmer-than-average temperatures, and below-average precipitation to much of the southern US. Cooler- and wetter-than normal conditions (typically associated with adverse winter weather) are expected to materialize in the northern US, the Great Lakes region, and throughout much of Canada. Should these trends hold true, the next six weeks could feel more spring-like from the Carolinas westward to California; however, winter storms, which could disrupt ground and air transport, will remain a possibility for much of the region.

Bottom Line

So there you have it. The science suggests most of the United States will feel more spring-like for the next six weeks, and that despite media attention for Punxsutawney Phil, it's proven he's usually not so great at forecasting the weather. We'll leave our intelligence analysis to the experts so you can rely on having accurate information to make appropriate business decisions and mitigate risk.