So we were watching the Rankin/Bass special Jack Frost, the Christmas special about how the Groundhog got his magic shadow and … uh … yeah, the Rankin/Bass holiday canon drifted in some weird ways. But the thing is at one point they’re talking with Father Winter and that made us think: Father Winter? Surely they mean Old Man Winter? But then I could see an explanation. Maybe they’re separate people. Maybe they’re related. I can see it now. “Old Man Winter? Oh, no, Old Man Winter is my father. Call me Father Winter.” And much merriment ensues as meetings and parcels intended for Old Man Winter go to Father Winter or vice-versa and the two have to deal with the people who are going to the wrong one and Father Winter’s trying to be all folksy and casual and Old Man Winter’s really not any more stiff, he’s just from a generation where you only use casual names with friends and all that. Anyway, I leave this premise free to a needy improv troupe.
|Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania||Shorter Winter|
|Staten Island Zoo, New York City||Longer Winter|
|Howell, Michigan||Longer Winter|
|Sandusky, Ohio||Wider Winter|
|Salem, New Hampshire||Mintier Winter|
|Santa Claus, Indiana||Winter With Chocolate Sprinkles And Whipped Cream|
|Elysburg, Pennsylvania||Three-Minute Spring With Biscuit and Gravy|
|Myrtle Beach, South Carolina||Mid-Spring|
|Pigeon Forge, Tennessee||Longer Winter But With Fashionable Fringes|
|Clementon, New Jersey||Remarkably Average Winter|
- Floriemel, Carmela, and Margarita Coati. Cohanzick Zoo, Bridgeton, NJ. February 1. The animals come out and eat fruit to predict how many human-interest features will explain what the heck coatis are. They’re what Belize has instead of raccoons.
- Punxsutawney Phil, Punxsutawney, Totally Oughta Be Philadelphia. February 2. Groundhog famous for predicting whether we’ll get the place spelled right.
- Woody the Woodchuck, Howell, Michigan. February 2. Predicts whether spring will come to the lower peninsula in six weeks or whether spring will be like normal and arrive sometime late May. No forecast for the upper peninsula as spring has never come to the upper peninsula.
- Shrieking Sam the Shreveport Clam, Louisiana. February 4. Will holler up a storm about whether a storm is coming in. Does not count own hollering storm as a storm.
- Jormungandr, Low Earth Orbit. February 5. Rises early in the morning to determine whether this will be the year he eats Scandinavia. Spoiler: hasn’t for the last 876 years, starting to think he never will. Dress warmly anyway.
- Chris Squirrel, London. February 7. Adorable fluffy-tailed character in a computer-animated funny-animal movie about the Yes bassist. Forecasts whether the coming year will feature lasers.
- Kenny Kangaroo, Pittsburgh, February 8. Forecasts whether the Kennywood amusement park would close for the day at 8:00 or 9:00, if it were open in the middle of winter like this. Mostly a public-relations thing, unlike the other weather-forecasting animals.
- Carl, Des Moines, Washington, February 10. Oversleeping groundhog that makes us wonder why we need a Des Moines in Washington when the one in Iowa would seem to sate all our Des Moines needs, really. Forecasts whether eastern Washington state will have a quarter-inch of rain this year or whether it’ll stay dry.
So Michigan’s official state groundhog, who works out of an animal rescue shelter very near to Howell, and not out of the capital in Lansing, predicted six more weeks of winter, which would still be a pretty early end to winter. This doesn’t surprise folks much because we got up to eighteen inches of snow on Sunday and there might be more coming in tomorrow, although it’s better than last winter, which moved in around August 24th and still hasn’t left.
What is surprising is that the prediction was made by Murray, who’s the state’s backup groundhog because Woody the Woodchuck, the main groundhog, was recovering from a respiratory infection. I’d like to think the state has a main and a backup groundhog because, hey, two major peninsulas, two major woodchucks, but that seems to just be coincidence. Also, Murray is named after Bill Murray, and as you might expect Murray is a female groundhog. I suppose this reflects people not asking groundhogs some obvious questions before naming them.
Also, not to get into an inter-state rivalry thing here, because I can’t, because I’m from New Jersey, but the groundhog in Sun Prairie, Wisconsin, bit mayor Jonathan Freund, who — according to groundhog handlers Jerry and Maria Hahn — went on to misrepresent the groundhog’s weather prediction. I can sympathize with Freund getting it wrong after being bitten by a Wisconsonian groundhog, though.
|If current trends continue, then in the year …||… there will have been as many Splendid Bowls as there are or were:|
|2020||Faces and vertices of the medial rhombic triacontahedron|
|2026||Days in January and February (non-bissextile years)|
|2026||Minimum number of games in the National Hockey League postseason (per rules in effect for 2015)|
|2027||Days in January and February (leap years)|
|2028||Counties in New York State|
|2031||Years between a Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania groundhog’s first being recorded to predict the weather and the predictive groundhog’s receiving the name “Phil” |
|2034||Secretaries of State of the United States (as of 2015)|
|2044||Inches of height of Michael Jordan|
|2048||Games in a regular National Basketball Association season (as of 2015)|
|2049||Episodes of the original Star Trek|
|2054||International Astronomical Union-recognized constellations|
|2071||Maximum number of games in the National Hockey League postseason (per rules in effect for 2015)|
|2173||Recipients of the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine (as of January 2015)|
|2331||Days in the year|
|2686||Species of Pokemon revealed as of 2015|
|9886||Elements of the sporadic Mathieu group M11|
1: Wikipedia’s description is very breezy and chatty, causing me to doubt that the topic has been the subject of credible historical inquiry.
So the groundhogs have seen their shadows, or they haven’t, or in one case the shadow came up and was frightened to see its groundhog. But consider these other animals and their prognostications:
- A fruit fly emerged into the dining room, forecasting the throwing out of the bananas that have been in the pantry since October.
- A buffalo poked its head out of a tree knothole in northern Rhode Island and sneezed. This forecasts that Mrs Wall will be giving a surprise pop quiz in English class Monday. Despite being so observed this should still catch everyone by surprise as Mrs Wall teaches science.
- A dikdik in southern Indiana checked Facebook to find her best friend had written a lengthy essay that mentioned “reverse discrimination” in the first paragraph. It’s going to be at least three weeks of her telling her that gosh she’s eager to read it and get involved in the comments thread but she’s just got so much to do she can’t possibly respond tonight.
- Xoredeshch Sfath, the great cosm-dragon, opened one eye in a panic, noticed that it was still 5:32 and his alarm isn’t for nearly 45 minutes, and went back to dreaming sleep. This gives the universe another 1,728 years of uninterrupted existence unless he has nightmares.
That’s not to say people are wrong to pay attention to groundhogs, just that they aren’t everything. Yet.