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What is Groundhog Day?

The holiday, which began as a Pennsylvania German custom in southeastern and central Pennsylvania in the 18th and 19th centuries, has its origins in ancient European weather lore, wherein a badger or sacred bear is the prognosticator as opposed to a groundhog. The holiday also bears some similarities to the medieval Catholic holiday of Candlemas. In addition, it resembles the Pagan festival of Imbolc, the seasonal turning point of the Celtic calendar, which is celebrated on February 1 and also involves weather prognostication.

For early Christians in Europe, Candlemas was a day to bless and distribute candles. It was at the mid-point between the Winter Solstice and the Spring Equinox. Early Christians decided that clear skies on Candlemas Day meant a longer winter was ahead, while a cloudy day foreshadowed the end of winter. According to the English version:

If Candlemas be fair and bright,
Winter has another flight.
If Candlemas brings clouds and rain,
Winter will not come again.

In 1723, the Delaware Indians settled Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania. It was a campsite halfway between the Allegheny and the Susquehanna Rivers. The name Punxsutawney comes from the Indian name for the location "ponksad-uteney" which means "the town of the sand flies." When the Germans came to America in the 1700s and settled in Pennsylvania, they brought their tradition of Candlemas and introduced the tradition of an animal seeing its shadow into the prediction of the weather on that day. In Germany, a badger had been used, but a suitable replacement in America was the groundhog.

In 1886, Clymer H. Freas, city editor of the Punxsutawney Spirit Newspaper was inspired by a local tradition of hunting and barbecuing groundhogs and dubbed the participants the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club. Using his editorial clout, he proclaimed Punxsutawney Phil, the local groundhog, to be the one and only official weather forecasting groundhog. He issued this proclamation on, appropriately enough, Groundhog Day, February 2nd. Punxsutawney Phil's fame began to spread, and newspapers from around the globe began to report Punxsutawney Phil's Groundhog Day predictions. Today, over 20,000 fans come to Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania on Groundhog Day.

What is the outlook from the Climate Prediction Center and your Local NWS?

 A weak to moderate La Nina is present across the tropical Pacific Basin. Atmospheric conditions over the tropical Pacific Ocean are consistent with an ongoing La Nina pattern with suppressed convection around the date line near the equator over the Central Pacific, enhanced low-level easterly winds anomalies over the western tropical Pacific Ocean, and Upper-Level Westerly winds anomalies observed over most of the Pacific Basin.

La Nina is referred to as a periodic cooling of ocean surface temperatures in the central and east-central equatorial Pacific. It occurs approximately every 3 to 5 years. La Nina represents the cool phase of the El Nino/Southern Oscillation(ENSO) cycle, and is sometimes referred to as a Pacific cold episode.

The typical La Nina pattern is expected to continue to impact the United States, especially across the Southeast. La Nina normally brings mild temperatures and less precipitation across the southeast. The Arctic Oscillation (AO) has been positive for much of the winter season, and current climate models continue to suggest it to remain positive (although the skill of AO forecast is not very high). Just recently, the Arctic Oscillation has become negative which represents below normal temperatures and an increase chance for snow across the southeast. The positive phase of the AO brings above normal temperatures and less chances of snow. There is another oscillation that your local National Weather Service examines which is the North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO). NAO has been mostly positive (meaning mild temperatures this winter) and current outlooks suggest that it will continue to be positive. With the combination of La Nina and both the AO and NAO in the positive phase, it is suggested the Southeast region will continue to observe mild temperatures for the remainder of February with some intrusions of below normal temperatures.

La Nina

Climate Prediction Center Forecasts

6 to 10 day forecast
8 to 14 day forecast
One month forecast 
Three month forecast (February - April) for temperature and precipitation

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National Weather Service
Newport/Morehead City, NC Weather Forecast Office
533 Roberts Rd, Newport, NC 28570
(252) 223-5737
Page last modified: May 14, 2011
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