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Wither the Weather

Punxsutawney Phil stuck his head outside on February 2, 2013 (Groundhog Day) and did not see his shadow. So that famous woodchuck announced to the world that winter was over and spring would arrive soon. A few days later we had the worst snowstorm in decades. So much for looking to a rodent to predict the weather.

The organizers of this yearly groundhog event (since 1886) claim 75 to 90% accuracy. The mayor wears a formal tail coat and top hat for this big event. Phil saw his shadow 98 times, no shadow 15 times, and no record 10 times.

Yet in 2005, 18,000 people gathered at Gobblers Knob, Pennsylvania to see if he would see his shadow. In 2001, the rodent’s weather prediction was displayed in Times Square. In 1995, he was on the Oprah TV show. His actual record is 37% accurate.

So far this year, we have had one of the worst winters with snowfalls and cold. The reality of global warming is that the storms are more violent and more frequent. The jet stream is making bigger and bigger gyrations and even Texas has had a huge snow storm.

Predicting the weather is really a skill and a science and a gamble. For our Famous Rodent Phil, flipping a coin would have been more accurate. The Old Farmers Almanac is another well known weather predictor. This year they predicted the east would be cold and snowy and the west warm and dry. Better than the rodent. They use a secret formula developed in 1792 for which they claim 80% accuracy.

Based in New Hampshire, the Almanac has all kinds of useful information, which, before Google, farmers really needed. Like when its warm enough to plant the peas. (In Ireland it’s when you can sit naked on the ground.) Also the tides and the full moon – most useful if you had to sail out of the harbor. I enjoy what vegetables to plant, when, and when to double crop. And the old faama’s “wisdom” is most amusing. I learn things too.

When farmers get together, it is said that they always talk about the weather, because that’s what determines their crops’ success. The Old Farmers Almanac was really necessary when everyone farmed, sowed and reaped, and milked the cows each day. Lots of info has been lost by us urban folks. (Like, do you know how many tits a cow has?) In 1981 Weatherwise Magazine found their weather predictions about 52% accurate.

Well, March has finally come, and spring is on the way. As I write this, this February’s 3 feet of snowfall is finally melting. But are winter’s troubles over? It depends on how you feel about the Ides of March.

Ruth S. Foster is a landscape consultant and arborist.

Credit: Ruth S. Foster