Punxsutawney Phil is a groundhog. He is a groundhog that predicts the weather. He is a groundhog who is only capable of predicting the weather once a year. All he does is answer one thing. Will spring come early, or will winter hang around for six more weeks? (If he sees his shadow, that means winter will go on another six weeks; if not, then here comes spring.) It kind of begs the question — is Punxsutawney Phil really the right guy for the job of weather forecaster? And if so, shouldn't he be in charge of other meteorological predictions — like, should we expect rain or whatever on our commute?
You probably know the answer to all of that is "no." Please! Phil is not some run-of-the-mill weather person on the five o'clock news. He's dealing with sophisticated stuff — the coming of new seasons and all that. He can't bother to tell you what jacket to wear on your run, for goodness sake. He's a busy creature, operating on a higher plane.
Also, to be honest, he really isn't that good at predicting the big stuff either.
Listen, brace yourself for what may be the greatest shock since the "Gone Girl" plot twist: Punxsutawney Phil is a super unreliable harbinger of spring. You're probably feeling a lot of different emotions right now, like surprise and anger and that fuzzy feeling when you can't even remember what article you clicked on in the first place. (It's the one about the accuracy of rodent weather predictions. We don't know why, either.)
While records weren't consistently kept until 1900 (after the first official "prediction" in 1887), Phil now operates at a 39 percent weather accuracy rate [source: Stormfax]. That might not seem so bad (although you have a better chance by flipping a coin). You can't really predict the weather, after all, and even those flashy television gals and guys aren't right that often. But David Unger of the National Weather Service estimates weather people are correct closer to 60 percent of the time [source: Melina]. That basically means they are more accurate than just guessing — more than Phil can say for his prognostic prowess. The National Climatic Data Center even weighed in to say that there is "no predictive skill for the groundhog," in a phrase so patently earnest it had to be directly quoted [source: NCDC].
It's probably good news that Phil's predictions aren't enforceable, and we aren't mandated by law to lock up our snow shovels or keep the heat in the house roaring for six weeks after his proclamation. The only thing you're really required to do on Feb. 2 is to watch the movie "Groundhog Day," and raise a toast to Harold Ramis. If you're wondering if you'll need to keep your winter coat around afterward? Best to check in with your friendly human local weather forecaster.
Originally Published: Aug 19, 2015