Ground Hogs and Global Warming
Below is a reprint of the New York Times Article on Ground Hog’s day and Global Warming , featuring our own Staten Island Chuck. After we read the article click on the picture to hear a podcast on global warming. ( takes time to download)
The Ground Hog emerged and Sounded a lot like Al Gore.
Groundhog Day has been part of the Western calendar since around the fifth century, which means it has survived centuries of Catholicism, the Reformation, the Enlightenment, the Industrial Revolution, and the advent of the agriculture of cloned sheep.
But whether it will survive in an age of global warming was one question — albeit not the biggest one — raised by the awkward coincidence yesterday of Groundhog Day 2007 falling on the same day a report was released by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change of the United Nations.
The report said that global warming was an unequivocal fact likely to make summers hotter and winters warmer for the next few centuries, with potentially dire consequences for the ecosystem. Groundhogs around the country, including the legendary Pennsylvania groundhog known as Punxsutawney Phil, basically concurred yesterday, shunning their shadows to predict an early spring.
But in this winter that almost wasn’t, that hardly seemed an accomplishment in prognostication — an untrained house cat could most likely have said the same.
“It is pretty clear that the groundhog is at some level being influenced by news coverage” of the whole global warming phenomenon, said Fred Gadomski, a meteorologist at Pennsylvania State University. “I have been noticing little contemporary phrases like ‘El Niño’ creeping into their little proclamations.”
In fact, both “El Niño” and “global warming” appeared in the official forecast read on Phil’s behalf at 7:28 a.m. yesterday by a spokesman for the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club, an organization loosely affiliated with the Chamber of Commerce of Punxsutawney, Pa., whose usual population of 6,000 swells to around 20,000 for the annual announcement.
“El Niño has caused high winds, heavy snow, ice and freezing temperatures in the West,” the four-legged forecaster began his four-couplet decree. “Here in the East with much mild winter weather we have been blessed.
“Global warming has caused a great debate; this mild winter makes it seem just great,” he continued. “On this Groundhog Day we think of one thing. Will we have winter or will we have spring? On Gobbler’s Knob I see no shadow today. I predict that early spring is on the way.”
Tom Chapin, editor of the local newspaper, The Punxsutawney Spirit, said the Punxsutawney groundhog’s use of such climate-change buzzwords was evidence of the extraordinary powers extant in certain members of the species, noting that “Phil, as far as I know, cannot read.”
In its earliest incarnation, Groundhog Day or something like it was a pagan observance, marking the midpoint between the winter solstice and spring equinox, according to historians.
Burrowing animals like the groundhog were said to have the supernatural ability to foretell an early spring. The observance merged at some point with the Christian holiday of Candlemas, and the tradition embodied in this proverb: “If Candlemas be fair and bright, winter will have another fight. If Candlemas brings cloud and rain, winter won’t come again.”
Mike Halpert, chief forecaster for the Climate Prediction Center of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, said that groundhog prognostication — while never used by the government, and “never very good” — was likely to remain for the foreseeable future as good as the average citizen’s guesswork, regardless of climate changes predicted in the United Nations panel’s report. “Just because we have global warming doesn’t mean that winter won’t still occur, and that there won’t still be variations in its duration,” Mr. Halpert noted.
New York-area groundhogs known as Malverne Mel and Holtsville Hal, both searching for their shadows on Long Island, attesting perhaps to the unreliability of marmot, house cat or other forms of inspirational climatology, issued split predictions. Mel foresaw an early spring, and Hal a long winter.
But Roberta Dinsmore, the librarian at Punxsutawney Memorial Library, where Punxsutawney Phil lives on the other side of a picture window on the ground floor (his burrow, complete with underground stream, was built in a mound of dirt there) said her town’s groundhog should never be compared to others.
“Oh, you know, he’s been very good,” Mrs. Dinsmore said in a telephone interview. “He will never be obsolete.” She had heard about the United Nations panel’s report, and called it “very important,” but said it would in no way make Phil moot.
“He has been right so often,” she said. “Anyway, I am pretty sure of that. You can check for yourself.”
The groundhog club claims that since 1886, Phil — there have been several — has seen his shadow 96 times, has not seen it 15 times and there are no records for nine years. Whether he has been “right” depends on when spring began in each of those years, a subjective question; but in this age of warming, he has seen his shadow — foretelling a longer winter — each of the past six years, until yesterday.
Mrs. Dinsmore was asked to describe Phil’s personality.
“Well, he loves bananas,” she said. “He lives with two little cousins. He’s very social. He’s quite fat.
“He was on ‘Oprah,’ you know,” she added. “He liked that very much.”