Georgia, Pennsylvania prognosticating groundhogs split on arrival of spring

Georgia, Pennsylvania prognosticating groundhogs split on arrival of spring

February 3rd, 2014 by David Cobb in Local Regional News

Two male groundhogs munch on vegetables at the Chattanooga Arboretum and Nature Center on Friday. The groundhogs will remain at the center because they were injured at some point in their life and are not healthy enough to be released back into the wild.

Photo by Erin O. Smith/Times Free Press.

General Beauregard Lee scampers around his enclosure at the Yellow River Game Ranch in Lilburn, Ga., Sunday, Feb. 2, 2014.

Photo by Associated Press/Times Free Press.

Perhaps sympathizing with his fellow Georgians who are days removed from a wintry disaster, Gen. Beauregard Lee awoke from his chambers at the Yellow River Game Ranch near Stone Mountain, Ga., on Sunday and did not see his shadow.

The groundhog, who goes more casually by "Beau," slept a few minutes late, likely due to the dense fog outdoors. But when he rose with his shadow nowhere in sight, it officially signified -- in accordance with popular legend -- that the South is in store for an early spring.

Though the accuracy of Beau's predictions is debated, at least one nationally celebrated rodent forecaster will be right in 2014.

Beau's northern counterpart, Punxsutawney Phil, of Pennsylvania, foreshadowed six more weeks of winter on Sunday.

Based on the monthly outlook provided by the National Weather Service, Austin said temperatures should remain on a par with their usual February averages, but precipitation is likely to be higher than normal.

Austin emphasized the more scientific and technically sound techniques weather professionals use to formulate their forecasts over the simplistic approach taken by Phil and other groundhogs.

"He has about a 40 percent accuracy rate," Austin said of Phil. "We try and do better than that."

Punxsutawney Phil is held by Ron Ploucha, left, as Ground Club Vice President Jeff Lundy, center, reads the weather proclamation after Phil saw his shadow and predicted six more weeks of winter weather after, as Ground Club President, Bill Deeley, right, listens on Gobblers Knob in Punxsutawney, Pa., on Sunday, Feb. 2, 2014.

Photo by Associated Press/Times Free Press.

They don't always succeed. No one predicted the winter storm that attacked the area Tuesday, bringing traffic to a standstill and sending children home from school for much of the week because of dangerous road conditions.

Last month ranked as the 10th-coldest January since the National Weather Service began keeping track in the 1880s. The average temperature of 33.7 degrees fell 6.8 degrees short of the usual average and came within 5.2 degrees of the record average low of 28.5 set in January 1977.

The National Weather Service is once again calling for precipitation this week -- this time it's just rain -- in the early or middle part of the week. The overnight low tonight is predicted at 36. For Wednesday night, the weather service predicts a low of 30 degrees, but the precipitation is expected to have departed the region by then.

Chattanooga Chuck, a local groundhog, sided with his northern colleague Sunday and predicted six more weeks of winter, according to a posting of his forecast on the Tennessee Aquarium website.

He did, however, deviate from the others by making a Super Bowl prediction. It did little to boost his credibility.

"My Super Bowl pick goes out to Denver. This Tennessee native hopes Peyton will deliver," Chuck said in his official statement.

"And speaking of deliveries, what will Mother Nature send? I see something that looks like my friend. Yikes! It's my shadow and you know what that means.

"Six more weeks of chill before things get warm and green."

Contact David Cobb at dcobb@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6731.