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Archive for Thursday, February 1, 2001

Punxsutawney Phil’s predictions questioned

February 1, 2001

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— Punxsutawney Phil, Pennsylvania's famous winter-predicting groundhog, who will look for his shadow Friday, is a quack, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration charges.

Phil's failed in nine of his last 13 annual predictions that Americans would, or would not, endure six more weeks of winter, the nation's weather service Phil's high-tech competitor reported this week on its Web site in what it lightheartedly called a "reality check."


After a close comparison of the groundhog's predictions and average national temperatures at the agency's National Climatic Data Center in Asheville, N.C., NOAA meteorologist Tom Ross reached this conclusion about Phil's prediction skill: "It's hit or miss."

Statistically speaking, Phil keeps seeing his shadow, which according to folklore means six more weeks of winter. He's done this eight times since 1988. Unfortunately for Phil, each time he's seen his shadow the next six weeks' weather has been warmer than normal.

But it all depends on what Phil means by "winter," observed Frank Gadomski, a Penn State University meteorologist who has met Phil personally.

"If the groundhog had an intelligent lawyer he'd say, 'Six more weeks of winter? Of course there would be six more weeks of winter. Look at the calendar,'" Gadomski reasoned.

The calendar says winter lasts until March 20, six weeks and four days after Groundhog Day.

"Phil's always right," proclaimed Terry Jericho, events coordinator for the Groundhog Club in Punxsutawney, Pa., and a spokeswoman for the famed rodent. She said she wonders about the weather service: "They say a storm is coming and it doesn't come."

It turns out that NOAA officials never bothered to check their winter prediction skills as extensively as they did Phil's. After several requests, they determined that NOAA had been right in two of the last three years, while Phil went one-for-three.

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