When Does Winter End?
Groundhog Day goes back to an ancient celebration of the midway point between the winter solstice and the spring equinox. It is the day in the middle of the astronomical winter. Sunny skies may mean a stormy and cold second half of the winter, while cloudy skies may mean the arrival of warm weather.
Phil is not the only forecaster. There are other celebrations in Pennsylvania, i.e. in Lancaster, Schuylkill and Bucks County. But there are also similar customs around the world. You find them in Serbia, Germany, the United Kingdom, and Russia.
It seems to be dangerous to hold a groundhog. Chuck of Staten Island for example bit Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s gloved finger when he was trying to get Chuck out of his burrow. Five years later, in 2014, Mayor Bill de Blasio, dropped Chuck and she (the granddaughter of the original Chuck) died seven days later of internal injuries. De Blasio did not return for Groundhog Day in the following years.
Following the biting incident, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources informed the organizers in Sun Prairie that capturing wild animals for exhibit was against the law. The organizers informed the authorities that Jimmy had escaped and could not respond to the complaints. From now on Sun Prairie has a caged groundhog, an elected costumed “mascot” and a different mayor.
When I look outside, I think Phil is right. We still have snow cover and our deer family lays down behind the house to rest, be out of the wind and share the warmth the house is offering. One day I was able to take a picture of them getting up in the morning. Usually I only see the round dark spots where they curled up.
Winter is not over yet. On the east coast the big snow storms often hit in March. I vividly remember the epic one of March 13- 14, 1993. We had over three feet of snow by March 15! After two days of snow, the temperature dropped like a rock. Everything looked pretty in the brilliant sunshine, but we were snowed in for four days! Our entire 3 mile long county road was completely inaccessible. Finally, on the 5th day, a local contractor welded a 10 foot wide plow blade to the front of a town road grader and, along with the town, opened the world for us again.
The weight of the snow cost us one of our buildings. During the height of the two day storm, I had battled my way several times on foot down to a point where I could see if anything was being plowed. I could barely see the roof-line of the ‘airplane hangar’ style structure. It was 300 feet long and had 4 wind turbines along the ridge line. On my first foray, I could barely see that the one toward the front was gone. I assumed that the fierce winds had torn it off. In two more trips, the next two in succession seemed to disappear. Finally, after the storm blew through and a bright blue sky followed, I struggled down our driveway through waist deep snow, to see what damage we had sustained. It wasn’t the wind that had claimed the turbines, it had been the weight of the snow, which had slowly unzipped the roof center line from front to back. It had collapsed the entire roof into the central gallery inside, crushing all our equipment and leaving the outside perimeter walls standing.
If groundhog Phil is right this year, we might be in for another six weeks of winter and perhaps a March nor'easter. If so, it may be a blessing in disguise. We haven't had too much snow this winter. The rule of thumb is that one inch of rain equals 10 inches of snow. With the mild drought we are experiencing, a Nor'easter may be welcome after all.