ANNAPOLIS – Don’t look to Punxsutawney Phil for relief from the cold and snow.
The National Weather Service is predicting another two months of cold and wintry weather for the region, regardless of whether the groundhog sees his shadow Wednesday or not.
That jibes with the forecast from J. Gruber’s Hagers-Town & Country Almanack. And, if history is any indicator, it will be backed up by Punxsutawney Phil himself, who has called for an early spring only about 13 percent of the time in the more than 100 years since records have been kept on the groundhog’s predictions.
“Punxsutawney Phil is probably going to see his shadow tomorrow and we will be in for six more weeks of winter,” said William O’Toole, weather- prognosticator since 1969 for the Hagers-Town Almanack, which has been writing about the weather, moon phases, gardening and zodiac signs since 1797.
According to legend, if the groundhog sees his shadow when he comes out of his burrow, it means an early spring. No shadow means another six weeks of winter.
Phil has been forecasting winter with his shadow for the small Western Pennsylvania town Punxsutawney since 1887. Almost 90 percent of the time, the stout-bodied marmot has not seen his shadow, predicting six more weeks of winter.
That pattern fits the National Weather Services’ forecast for more winter in the region. Even though a thaw will arrive over the next week, “don’t think the winter’s done come and gone,” warned James Travers, meteorologist for the National Weather Service in the Baltimore-Washington region.
“Over the next month and a half or so we will see more snow, ice and cold weather,” Travers said.
A cold air system from Canada is offsetting La Nina, the current weather system that typically brings the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic regions balmy winters, Travers said.
Mix frigid air “with storms from the juicy Gulf of Mexico, and this makes for a lot of precipitation,” he said. A similar weather pattern helped create the brutal winter of 1996 and comes about every four years.
Other prognosticators agree the wintry weather has only just begun. O’Toole said this winter’s late start bodes for a longer winter.
Whether Punxsutawney Phil agrees remains to be seen. But his predictions have been right in the Baltimore-Washington area most of the time: Of 23 major late-winter storms in Maryland since 1888, the groundhog gave false hopes for an early spring only three times.
“Phil has never been wrong,” said Robert Chambers, Cold Weatherman Emeritus for the Inner Circle of the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club, who added that the groundhog “has been around for centuries.”
Even if Phil hasn’t been around for centuries, the Groundhog’s Day tradition has. It stems from an early Christian holiday in Europe, Candlemas Day, where for centuries, sunny weather meant a long winter and clouds predicted the end of the cold season. The Germans added the hedgehog’s shadow as a forecasting sign to the holiday.
When Pennsylvania’s early German settlers found groundhogs all over the state, they made it the official prognosticator for winter weather. The celebration has grown from a private ceremony in forests to an event that draws thousands of visitors.