Groundhog Day

Happy Sausage (i.e., Ground Hog) Day! {Obligatory bad pun groan from readers.}

The traditional Groundhog’s Day belief says that, if a hibernating animal sees its shadow that day, winter will last another six weeks. If there’s no shadow, spring will come early.

However, when I was growing up in Michigan, I always interpreted the phrase “six more weeks of winter” in the opposite way. I thought the groundhog seeing his shadow was a good thing: there will be only six more weeks of winter! In Michigan, winter weather could easily persist for eight or more weeks! It wasn’t until I moved to Texas that I encountered the notion that him seeing his shadow was bad, because winter weather will endure for six more weeks instead of ending earlier. Perspective is everything sometimes.

My best guess at the “underlying meteorology” of the traditional view is this: At the peak of winter in the Midwest, it is actually clear more than cloudy — there’s too little moisture in the air to have clouds when it’s that cold. But it tends to get cloudy when the winter weather is breaking. Thus, if he sees his shadow, we’re still in the grip of the peak of winter; otherwise winter is starting to fade.