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Jessica is the NH.com Editor and Producer. She has a BA in Creative Writing from Chester College of NE, and a M.Ed. specializing in Adult Education from Plymouth State University. She is happily married and a proud mama of two perfect little boys and is motivated to alert New Hampshirites to the hottest goings-on in the state. Her interests include cracking the spine of a good book, writing, painting and cuddling with her babies on the sofa while some terrible reality TV hums in the background.
A Woodchuck’s Winter Weather Forecast
Thursday, January 31, 2013
How much wood could a woodchuck chuck, if a woodchuck could chuck wood? Well, I'm not precisely sure, but he would have more wood-chucking time if his shadow doesn't frighten him back into hibernation!
The woodchuck, land-beaver, whistle-pig, prairie dog, or as we know him best, groundhog, is an internationally-renowned, meteorological-marmot! For over a century, America has turned to groundhogs, most notably, Pennsylvania's Punxsutawney Phil, to forecast the transition from winter to spring.
Lore figures that if the skies are gold and sunny when Phil emerges from his den on February 2nd, the sight of his shadow will frighten him back into hibernation, and "there will be six more weeks of winter." If, by contrast, clouds gather over Pennsylvania on a gray February 2nd morning, Phil's shadow will be so sparse his mood will lighten and he will predict an "early spring."
Historically, this time of year has been celebrated with weather prognostication (rodent-related or otherwise). The first week in February falls on a cross-quarter of the year between the Winter Solstice and the Vernal Equinox. Hoping to grow more crops, farmers would look for favorable weather-signs. It's no wonder they turned to winter-hibernating animals to indicate the thaw. Many early American sources on the holiday cite an 1841 notation, which reads, "according to the Germans, the Groundhog peeps out of his winter quarters and if he sees his shadow he pops back for another six weeks nap, but if the day be cloudy he remains out, as the weather is to be moderate." Forty-five years later, America would coronate its first groundhog weatherman.
Since Punxsutawney Phil in 1886, other U.S. cities have commissioned their own weather-telling woodchucks, including, Staten Island Chuck (Staten Island, NYC), Queen Charlotte (Charlotte, NC), Chuckles (Manchester, CT), and Gus (Athens, GA).
This year's Vernal Equinox is observed on Wednesday, March 20th. So, really, no matter how many shadows are cast on February 2nd, we will still (as always) have six more weeks of winter. Perhaps the best idea to come from the Groundhog Day traditions and lore is planning. A month or so ago we began considering resolutions, hopes, dreams and aspirations for the new year. As we wait for warmer weather to spring up, now is a good time to plan our next move. If you are doing well with your resolution, how will you continue? If you've faltered slightly, how will you recover? What do you want to do in 2013, and how will you do it?
Share some 2013 plans and stories in the comments section below.
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