It’s an annual event that some people pay attention to, maybe more so in parts of the country that get bone-shivering cold during the winter. In Austin, and especially the first few days of February during the unprecedented ice event, the “forecast” of not one but two seemed to be a source of consternation since there was a disagreement.
I’m talking about Groundhog Day. It’s the day set aside during the year that determines whether or not there will be six more weeks of winter.
History tells us that the earliest mention of this day happened on February 2, 1840. It is mentioned in a diary kept by James L. Morris of Morgantown, PA. The first Groundhog Day in history, though, was February 2, 1887.
You know the drill. If the groundhog sees its shadow it means winter lasts for six more weeks. If it doesn’t, spring starts early.
Over time, the groundhog of record has been a rodent named Punxsutawney Phil. Punxsutawney, a city about as difficult to spell as there is, is 80 miles northeast of Pittsburgh. Phil has been the “forecaster” determining what will happen in the six weeks from February 2.
In 2012 a group of Central Texans, who used to be known as the Benevolent Knights of the Raccoon, took it as an insult that a “mangy groundhog” was forecasting the Lone Star State’s weather. What better way to predict the weather in Texas than to have an authentic Texas armadillo do it? And, an armadillo is not a rodent. Thus, Bee Cave Bob’s career started on what is now called Armadillo Day.
This year’s forecasts by these two rodents were as different as fans of the Longhorns vs. fans of the Aggies. Bee Cave Bob did not see his shadow on Wednesday because (fanfare here) there was no sun. Thus, spring comes early. Punxsutawney Phil did see his shadow … or did he? Did he see his shadow because there was sunshine? Or, as I have thought for years, was it the television cameras with their lights beaming waiting for Phil to emerge from his home?
It makes for some amusing and, perhaps, contentious conversation but one thing is becoming evident. According to Climate Central data from 1970 to 2019, 50 years worth of information, shows that our springs are starting earlier. The graph below charts the average temperature increase between February 2 and March 16, that six-week period of more winter or early spring.
The graphic specifically plots the average temperature starting on 2/2 and ending on 3/16.
Bob has predicted an early spring in five of the last six years. He made no prediction in 2021 because of the pandemic. Good thing because it was February 2021 when Central Texas experienced a snow and ice event during the middle of the month. It got colder then than this year’s weather with lows of 8° on the 15th and 7° on the 16th.
But his predictions seem to verify Climate Central’s statistical data that in the six weeks after Groundhog Day 93% of 244 cities analyzed, including Austin, are becoming warmer.