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Groundhog Day tradition predicts long winter in the United States

Photo by Eiffelle / CC BY

The groundhog, Marmota monax (Photo by Eiffelle / CC BY)

February 2014

By Kevin Grunewald

Earlier this month, tens of thousands of spectators gathered in the otherwise unassuming American town of Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania for Groundhog Day — an annual tradition in seasonal weather prediction. According to local lore, the actions of famous groundhog “Punxsutawney Phil” on the morning of February 2nd accurately forecasts how much longer the region will have to endure the harsh seasonal winter weather. Unfortunately for hopeful onlookers — who were still reeling from a recent, record breaking cold snap — the prophetic rodent “saw his shadow” this year and hustled back to his burrow, signifying the worst-case prediction of six more weeks of winter.

But is this truly a worst-case prediction? While winter weather may force many species to adopt specialised foraging and dormancy strategies, there is a silver lining to severely cold weather in the biological world. Insect experts, for example, revel in the face of bone chilling temperatures because they know that these conditions may diminish populations of harmful invasive insect species like the emerald ash borer and the hemlock woolly adelgid.

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