Friday 2nd February 2007

Today is Groundhog Day, which means it’s time once again for meteorologists everywhere to defer to American rodents for medium-term forecasting of the weather stateside.

Fascinated by this quaint tradition and jaded by the modern machinery of weather prediction, I decided I would log on to the official website of Punxsutawney Phil, arguably the most famous of the groundhog prognosticators, and find out what the American weather would do for the next six weeks.

What I found terrified me. Not only was his prediction entirely delivered in rhyming couplets (I thought groundhogs preferred haiku…oh, and couldn’t talk), but it was steeped in Republican anti-environmentalism:

Phil Says Spring is Right Around the Corner!

Phil’s official forecast as read 02/02/2007 at 07:28 at Gobbler’s Knob:

El Niño has caused high winds, heavy snow, ice and freezing temperatures in the west.
Here in the East with much mild winter weather we have been blessed.

Global warming has caused a great debate.
This mild winter makes it seem just great.

On this Groundhog Day we think of one thing.
Will we have winter or will we have spring?

On Gobbler’s Knob I see no shadow today.
I predict that early spring is on the way.

“This mild winter makes [global warming] seem just great”?!?!

I can only hope that this naïve and ridiculous attitude is what you get by asking a giant rat what he thinks of a complex climatic system based on whether or not he can see his own shadow, and I hope further that the American public and government realise just how dangerous and silly this attitude is.

What scares me more is that I suspect Phil may have had some help from a human in composing his ditty, and that therefore perhaps some members of the Groundhog Club’s ‘Inner Circle’ hold this view.

There’s got to be an element of tongue-in-cheek tradition to the continued use of groundhog forecasting (please say there is…right?), but I think in these days of mainframes and distributed computing climate models that perhaps we shouldn’t trust the right-wing ramblings of a rodent on the subject of climatology.

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