No groundhog can make winter end

Published 8:59 am Monday, February 4, 2019

Unless you were in Punxsutawney, Pa., today, Groundhog Day may not seem like much of a holiday. Regardless of where you find yourself today, the tradition is pretty simple. A rodent named Phil makes his way out of a “burrow” that is surrounded by a bunch of smiling people, and this year most of them will be wearing overcoats and toboggans because of the freezing cold which has gripped much of the nation this past week.
Legend goes if the groundhog sees his shadow, that means six more weeks of winter. If he doesn’t, spring will arrive early.
Groundhog Day, a national event, occurs every year on February 2 in Punxsutawney, Pa. This is where the groundhog named Punxsutawney Phil lives, hidden from the public until his spotlight moment in February. Supposedly, ever since the year 1887, this groundhog has been in charge of determining whether winter will continue for six more weeks or if spring will begin early.
Groundhog Day has its roots in the ancient Christian tradition of Candlemas, when clergy would bless and distribute candles needed for winter, according to an article on the History Channel website. The candles represented how long and cold winter would be. The website states Germans expanded on the concept by selecting an animal — initially a hedgehog — as a means of predicting weather. Once they came to America, German settlers in Pennsylvania continued the tradition, though they switched from hedgehogs to groundhogs.
The celebration grew in popularity after the 1993 movie “Groundhog Day” starring Bill Murray.
Since 1887 when the tradition began, the groundhog has seen its shadow 104 times, according to Stormfax Weather Almanac. There was no record nine of the years, and the groundhog saw no shadow 18 times.
Though it is a fun tradition, the groundhog has been correct in its forecast only 39 percent of the time.
Today marks the beginning of a brief period of unusual February warmth here in Northeast Tennessee, where temperatures are forecast to reach the 60s and stay there for much of next week. But regardless of the annual Groundhog Day outcome, don’t count on it to provide a glimpse of what the coming days will bring.
We can expect winter to return, maybe not as cold and frigid as this past week, but February — and March, too — has its share of wintry weather. The cold season clearly has a ways to go. Meteorological spring doesn’t begin until March 1, and the official beginning of spring doesn’t arrive until March 20.
But look at it this way. February has arrived, and we have about half of winter behind us. On the first official day of winter the sun was scheduled to rise today at 7:36 a.m. and set at 5:17 p.m. Today, the sun was scheduled to rise at 7:29 a.m. and set at 5:56 p.m. That means we have experienced an additional 46 minutes of sunlight since the latest winter solstice.
Spring will soon be upon us, but it never arrives on February 2. However, the wait is winding down. Keep the coat handy, but also keep in mind where the shorts and T-shirts are stored. You will want to reach for them before you know it.

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