Groundhog Day 2010 truth test: which one has it right?

Groundhog Punxsutawney Phil Sees Shadow–And Long Winter, reads today’s top National Geographic News headline.

“Don’t pack away those winter clothes just yet: This morning famed groundhog forecaster Punxsutawney Phil saw his shadow, meaning winter temperatures in 2010 will continue for six more weeks,” reports our contributor Ker Than.

Tradition has it that if Punxsutawney Phil sees his shadow on Groundhog Day–always February 2–winter weather will continue for six more weeks across the United States, Than wrote. “But if Phil doesn’t see his shadow, then spring temperatures are just around the corner.”

Punxsutawney, a small town in Pennsylvania, makes the most of Phil’s annual prognosis. It’s a great way to get a buzz going about the place–and this year they made full use of social media such as Twitter to get the word out.

But while Punxsutawney’s furry forecaster hogs most of the publicity on February 2, there are others that offer their prediction in different parts of North America.

Amazingly, they don’t agree with one another.

Most local groundhogs did not see their shadows on Groundhog Day 2010, even though the most famous one of all did, the Huffington Post reported today.

The Marion Star reported on Buckeye Chuck of Ohio not seeing his shadow. Mayor Bloomberg declared the same news for Staten Island Chuck in New York.Jimmy The Groundhog was treated like a star in Sun Prairie, Wisconsin, with a freshly cleared path just for him. But he too did not see his shadow. And in Georgia, despite some early technical difficulties, General Lee Groundhog did not see his shadow either,” said the HuffPost.

CTV in Canada reported that the eastern groundhogs “are united in their predictions as Ontario’s Wiarton Willie, Nova Scotia’s Shubenacadie Sam and Punxsutawney Phil in Pennsylvania all spotted their shadows. That means the eastern provinces are in for another six weeks of winter.

“But Albertans have been given a pass on an extended winter,” the Calgary television station added. “Balzac Billy bucked the trend and did not see his shadow and says that Albertans can pack up the winter gear and get ready for an early spring.”

The Atlanta Journal Constitution delved into the records and, by comparing them with National Weather Service data, found that “Punxsutawney Phil, Pennsylvania’s famous prognosticator, more accurately guessed spring’s arrival than Lilburn’s Gen. Beauregard Lee.”

“In real life, so-called scientists insist that Punxsutawney Phil’s record is spotty, and that he’s only right four out of 10 times,” wrote Richard Adams, a blogger for the UK Guardian. “In other words, you’d be better off flipping a coin than listening to Phil.”

The Wall Street Journal wondered if the groundhogs were really providing an outlook on the economy. “Does the famous rodent meteorologist tell us anything about the economy,” asked Phil Izzo, a blogger for the Journal.

“In 2008, six weeks to the day after the groundhog saw his shadow, Bear Stearns collapsed, signaling a new phase to the credit crisis and the first signs of the Great Panic that sent the economy into a tailspin late that year,” Izzo wrote. “In 2009, Phil saw his shadow again, and who could blame him for heading back into his hole? The stock market was still falling, gross domestic product was tumbling and politicians were debating stimulus plans and bank rescues.”

Is this the real why Punxsutawney Phil saw his shadow today?

Changing Planet

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More than forty years in U.S., UK, and South African media gives David Max Braun global perspective and experience across multiple storytelling platforms. His coverage of science, nature, politics, and technology has been published/broadcast by the BBC, CNN, NPR, AP, UPI, National Geographic, TechWeb, De Telegraaf, Travel World, and Argus South African Newspapers. He has published two books and won several journalism awards. In his 22-year career at National Geographic he was VP and editor in chief of National Geographic Digital Media, and the founding editor of the National Geographic Society blog, hosting a global discussion on issues resonating with the Society's mission and initiatives. He also directed the Society side of the Fulbright-National Geographic Digital Storytelling Fellowship, awarded to Americans seeking the opportunity to spend nine months abroad, engaging local communities and sharing stories from the field with a global audience. A regular expert on National Geographic Expeditions, David also lectures on storytelling for impact. He has 120,000 followers on social media: Facebook  Twitter  LinkedIn