As January draws to a close, I'm curious to see if Phil the Groundhog will predict an early spring, or six more weeks of bad weather.
Phil is scheduled to make his annual appearance on Groundhog Day, Feb. 2 in Punxsutawney, Penn., and many are wondering if he will see his shadow. Tradition says when he peeks his nose from his underground to look around, he will take a cloudy day as a sign of spring. If it is sunny and he casts a shadow, he'll retreat inside for six more weeks of winter.
Predicting the weather in that part of Pennsylvania goes back to the 1700s when German settlers first arrived. They brought with them the tradition of Candlemas. The immigrants placed the lighted candles on window sills and hoped for the end of winter. If the sun was out Feb. 2, their hopes were dashed and they prepared for six more weeks of winter.
The tradition eventually evolved into the popular Groundhog Day celebration.
Some are true believers, and others attend just for fun. The doubters don't believe the notion that something as trivial as Phil's shadow can predict the weather, but I remember my Grandfather using a variety of clues from nature to prepare his farm for upcoming weather.
Grandpa had a pain in his joints when rain was coming, and he was never wrong. He also relied on several subtle clues to predict the severity of the coming winter, such as a heavy crop of acorns or a heavier than normal winter coat for animals. Some of Grandpa's friends said they could tell what the coming winter would be like by studying the stripe pattern on the woolly worm, and some said a good predictor was the amount of husks on the corn that year.
I've always liked the idea that mysterious Mother Nature leaves us signs as to what she has in store for the months ahead, so I was somewhat disappointed to find many of these predictors have a firm scientific basis.
Experts tell us it's true that migrating birds like geese will fly higher in fair weather. This is because the air pressure changes in good weather and the altitude limit they can comfortably fly is lifted. Likewise, when birds roost in flocks, it can be due to the changing air pressure which lessens updrafts that help them fly. This often does precede rain or storms.
Experts say it's also true that halos around the sun or moon can indicate coming rain or snow. That's because we're viewing them through a layer of crystal clouds ready to release moisture.
These same experts have scoffed at the thick corn husk theory, and have stated bluntly that furry coats on squirrels or the crop of nuts that year have nothing to do with the harshness of winter.
I'm going to weigh in on Grampa's side. Given time, the experts will one day find a reason for these things.