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THURSDAY FEBRUARY 1 - PUNXATAWNEY PHIL
Because of a legend and a popular Hollywood movie, tomorrow morning many eyes will
turn to Punxsutawney, PA where, awakened by local
officials from his winter slumber, a groundhog named Phil will step into the opening
moments of daylight. Supposedly if he sees his shadow, we'll have six more
weeks of winter. If he doesn't, spring is around the corner.
Now obviously, you can't take Phil's forecast seriously because whether the sun appears
tomorrow morning or not has no bearing on the weather for the next six weeks. But there
is a little meteorology behind Groundhog Day. You see, Phil would probably wake up
anyway naturally due to the cold. Let me explain.
When groundhogs hibernate, their body temperature drops to just a degree or two above
the temperature of their burrow. But if that temperature falls to where the animal's
tissues can freeze, the groundhog will wake up. Now typically, air temperatures bottom
out in late January. But the
groundhog's burrow is usually four to six feet below ground,
and it takes a few extra weeks for the deep chill to penetrate down that far. And so
the coldest time in the burrow is often in early February, right around Groundhog Day.
Thus, though Phil the groundhog is no weather forecaster, meteorology does play a role
in determining when groundhogs might actually wake up on their own.