It’s Groundhog Day! –
So, in addition to weather knowledge, marmots also have a sense of humor? Weather forecast trading tools.
Readers may recall last year being a mixed bag of news for our groundhog sightings in northern Alberta.
Those critters and ladies who slept in were greeted with sunshine that broke out around 10:00 am. Those who got up bright and early as dawn broke around 8 a.m. were greeted with overcast skies. In other words, the early risers didn’t see their shadows. The late risers did.
The well-known story goes when the groundhogs (aka groundhogs)
seeing their shadows on Groundhog Day, frightened they scurry back to their burrows. There they slumber for another six weeks while the winter weather continues outside.
Of course, there are all kinds of predictions, just from groundhogs, across Canada, North America and indeed around the world.
Kinuso Kenny, McLennan Mike and Peace River Patty are all notorious groundhogs or groundhogs in northern Alberta.
And of course there’s Grimshaw Gertie, Falher Freddie, High Prairie Henry, Joussard Jenny, Enilda Eddy, Faust Fran, Slave Lake Sally. And this year Wabasca joined Wilfred and Smith, wait for it, Smith Smitty. Not all reported this year. As usual.
But for those who did, there is consensus. Spring is on the way!
It’s safe to say that no matter what their weather forecasts are, there’s a very good chance they’re at least as accurate as any well-paid “professionals” at news networks, weather forecasting companies, TV announcers, weather scientists, or traditional fortune-tellers. Adding to the generally arbitrary predictions made by the pros is that February is more likely to see northern Alberta winter. Most of March. And sometimes even in April.
We have six weeks until mid-March. A bettor betting that March 16th will be winter will collect all the marbles better than half the time, we’d say. Of course there are those who say spring is here when the big yellow snowplow clears the streets in the sky. Or when we see running water because of a Chinook. A little snow afterwards means nothing. Heck, it snowed in Winnipeg in July!
Reporting on this event is difficult. Just as there are no clear rules as to what exactly “winter” is, there are no clear rules as to when the local forecaster will come out of his or her burrow. In fact, there are no clear rules as to what exactly constitutes a shadow. We’re sure the little boys and girls know what’s what. But they don’t talk.
Now, Environment Canada (EC) experts disagree with the groundhogs. Last week, EC said the remainder of Alberta’s winter will be cold and frigid through the end of March. What weather watchers might notice seems to be a common theme in recent years. Cold springs and prolonged falls. All due to the effects of the weather force called La Nina. La Nina has influenced Alberta for the past two years and is set to continue this year.
Doesn’t matter. Wise people enjoy the seasons. It doesn’t matter which surface and underground “experts” make predictions. Smart people just call it weather, dress accordingly, and know it’s going to change soon enough.
For a different take on Groundhog Day, check out recent stories here, one from the Columbia Valley Pioneer in British Columbia and one from the Swan Hills Grizzly Gazette:
Photo by Jametlene Reskp on Unsplash
Happy Groundhog Day!
By Chadd Cawson, reporter for the Local Journalism Initiative
There are nine species of marmots, also known as woodchucks, found throughout North America, three of which live in Canada. The species that appears in the Columbia Valley is the Marmota mona petrensis.
Groundhogs, which thrive on prairies and forested areas, belong to the group of large ground squirrels known as groundhogs and are the second largest member of the ground squirrel family after the gray groundhog.
Marmots have four incisors, white to off-white, that grow 1.5 millimeters (mm) per week, as their constant use wears them down by the same amount weekly. As herbivores, marmots eat a wide variety of plants and have been known to take tasty fruit and vegetable treats from people’s farms and gardens. They also eat insects, snails and maggots. Predators include gray wolves, badgers, coyotes, and cougars. The length of the average adult marmot is 68.5 centimeters (cm) including a tail of up to almost 19 cm. The average year-round weight for men is 3.83 kilograms (kg), while women weigh slightly less at 3.53 kg. In the wild they live up to six years; have reached the age of 14 in captivity.
Chuck on repeat
Groundhogs, also known as woodchucks, are distinguished by sex as he-chucks and she-chucks; Their young are called giggles or puppies. A group of marmots is called a repeat. Of the entire ground squirrel family, marmots are the solitary ones and do not form stable, long-term bonds and are only concerned with reproduction. Mating occurs after marmots emerge from hibernation in late February or early March. After a gestation period of 32 days, she gives birth to three to five chicks that are born naked and blind. They are independent at the age of two months.
marmots hibernate; They retreat to their burrows in mid-autumn and fall into a deep sleep. Her body temperature drops from 37 to 3.3 degrees Celsius; Her heart rate drops from 80 to four beats per minute. Aside from getting up a few times to relieve themselves or go outside for a moment, hibernation for marmots can last up to five months. When they emerge from it, their bodies are skinny and exhausted. They balance this out in the spring and summer months. They are voracious eaters and can consume rows of peasant crops.
Marmots are also called whistling pigs because they emit a whistle-like warning call when threatened. This warns any other marmots in the area of danger such as a low-flying hawk or other predator. Marmots fight and quarrel with each other over their territories. Their defensive tactics also include teeth chattering and tail wagging.
Down to earth
Marmots are said to have a significant connection to the earth and represent stability and earth energy. In indigenous cultures, a groundhog emerging as a spirit animal is believed to be an opportunity for self-examination and personal growth. It seems to help you leave negativity behind while paving the way for the emergence of your true self.
No shadow, no doubt
The first Groundhog Day dates back to February 2, 1887, when a rodent meteorologist was first celebrated at Gobbler’s Knob in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania.
In 1887, a newspaper editor who belonged to a group of groundhog hunters called the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club stated that a groundhog named Phil was America’s only true weather forecasting groundhog. Since then, the groundhog has always been referred to as Punxsutawney Phil.
According to tradition, if the groundhog does not see its shadow, spring will undoubtedly come earlier. If his silhouette frightens him, then there are still six weeks of winter for everyone.
Originally published on 02/02/2023
Reprinted with permission from Columbia Valley Pioneer, Invermere, British Columbia
How accurate is the official groundhog of groundhog day?
By Dean LaBerge, reporter for the Local Journalism Initiative
The most famous Groundhog Day groundhog is Punxsutawney Phil, a groundhog from Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, USA. Phil has been the star of the local Groundhog Day event, held every February 2nd, since 1887.
Thousands of people gather in Punxsutawney each year to watch Phil’s prediction and celebrate the holiday. Punxsutawney Phil has become a cultural icon and is widely recognized as the “Official Groundhog of Groundhog Day”.
The tradition of Groundhog Day has its roots in ancient European pagan traditions, including the Celtic festival of Imbolc, celebrated on February 2 to mark the beginning of spring. Eventually, with the spread of Christianity across Europe, Imbolc evolved into the Christian religious holiday of Candlemas, which celebrated the presentation of Jesus Christ in the Holy Temple in Jerusalem.
Christians in some parts of Europe believed that a sunny Candlemas would mean an additional 40 days of cold weather and snow. When this belief was introduced in Germany, the Germans added their own attitude, declaring the day sunny only when small animals like the hedgehog saw their own shadows.
According to German tradition, when the hedgehog saw its shadow at Candlemas, this indicated a “second winter” or another six weeks of bad weather. If the animal in question did not see its shadow, it would signal an early spring. When German immigrants arrived in Pennsylvania in the 18th and 19th centuries, they brought the tradition with them and replaced the local marmot as their weather forecaster.
The Punxsutawney Groundhog Club has been responsible for official Phil’s Groundhog Day predictions since the club’s inception in 1887. Each year, members of the Inner Circle (a group of local dignitaries who take responsibility for continuing the Groundhog Day tradition each year) don top hats and tuxedos to perform the ceremony, during which they confer with Phil and make the official prediction .
Although Groundhog Day and Punxsutawney Phil’s predictions have become a cultural phenomenon, they have not proven to be very accurate. Over 135 years, Phil’s accuracy rate is only 39%. Despite this, the holiday continues to be celebrated every February 2nd, and Punxsutawney Phil remains one of the most famous groundhogs in the world.
Published on 2/1/2023 at 1:33 p.m
Reprinted with permission from The Grizzly Gazette, Swan Hills, Alberta