Groundhog Day

2 minute read


Today, February 2nd is Groundhog Day. Today, Punxsutawney Phil came out and saw his shadow, meaning that there will be another six weeks of snow.

The Groundhog Club, who looks after Phil and makes the trek to Gobbler’s Knob every February to get Phil’s prediction, says that the same groundhog has been making predictions since 1886. This deserves the Australian double positive: Yeah, right.

When I worked at UTC Fire & Security (now part of Carrier), I found out that a colleague’s wife had her birthday on Groundhog Day. I’ve been out of UTC for 10 years now, but I still send my (now) former colleague an email wishing his wife a happy birthday.

I’m not at all sure why I find Groundhog Day so amusing. I liked the movie, but I don’t think the significance of Phil’s forecasts didn’t really hit home to me until I lived in a place that had lots of snow. Knowing whether or not you’re going to be an icicle for another six weeks is a great thing to know.

Weather forecasting

Given that Punxsutawney Phil’s sole aim is to forecast the weather, I started wondering how accurate he is. Apparently Phil has predicted 20 springs and 104 winters, for an accuracy of about 40%.

Actual meteorologists do pretty well. For short-term forecasts, they get it right about 80% of the time - twice as good as Phil. But for longer term - more than 10 days - they only manage about 50%. That’s slightly better than Phil, but not much.

So, for long term weather forecasting, get yourself a woolly bear caterpillar! Not really. :-)


As I was writing this, I wondered : is Punxsutawney Phil #fakenews ?

Forecasting, as anyone who does it will tell you, is a hard game to be in. When you’re wrong, everyone notices. When you’re right, no one notices.

I don’t believe Punxsutawney Phil is fake news. He’s not directly affecting anyone’s happiness. He’s not changing people’s minds. He’s a thing of fun and amusement, because the idea of a weather prognosticating rodent is absurd… and everyone can see it’s absurd.

The problem with actual #fakenews is that people can’t tell the fake from the real deal.