It’s Groundhog Day!

So groundhogs have a sense of humour, besides weather skills?
Tools of the weather prediction trade.

Jeff Burgar

Readers might recall last year, it was a mixed bag of news as far as our northern Alberta groundhog observations went.
Those critter fellas and ladies who slept in were greeted with sunshine breaking out about 10:00 A.M. Those who were up bright and early as dawn was breaking around 8 were greeted with overcast skies. In other words, the early risers did not see their shadows. The late risers did.

The well known story goes, if the Groundhogs (also known as woodchucks)
see their shadows on Groundhog Day, frightened, they scurry back into their dens. There, they snooze away for another six weeks, while winter weather goes on and on outside.
Of course, there are all kinds of predictions, just from groundhogs, right across Canada, North America, and in fact the world.

Kinuso Kenny, McLennan Mike and Peace River Patty are all notorious woodchucks, or groundhogs, in northern Alberta.

And of course there are also Grimshaw Gertie, Falher Freddie, High Prairie Henry, Joussard Jenny, Enilda Eddy, Faust Fran, Slave Lake Sally. And joined this year by Wabasca Wilfred and Smith, wait for it, Smith Smitty. Not all reported in this year. As usual.

But for those which did, there is consensus. Spring is on the way!

It’s safe to say, no matter what their weather predictions might be, there are very good chances they will be at least as correct as any well-paid “professionals” at news stations, weather forecasting companies, TV announcers, weather scientists, or traditional soothsayers. Added to generally haphazard forecasts offered up by the pros, is the fact northern Alberta is probably more likely to have winter in February. Most of March. And sometimes even in April.

Six weeks takes us to mid-March. A betting person wagering it will be winter on March 16 will scoop up all the marbles better than half the time, we would say. Of course, there are those who say spring is here when the big yellow snowplow in the sky clears the roads. Or when we see some running water because of a chinook. A little bit of snow after that means nothing. Heck, it has snowed in Winnipeg in July!

Reporting on this event is hard. Just as there are no clear rules as to what exactly is “winter,” there are no clear rules as to when the local forecaster comes out of his, or her, burrow. In fact, there are no clear rules as to what exactly makes up a shadow. We are sure the little guys and girls know what is what. But they aren’t talking.

Now, the experts at Environment Canada (EC) differ with the groundhogs. Last week, EC said the remaining winter in Alberta is going to be cold and icy all the way to the end of March. Which weather watchers might note seems to be getting to be a common theme the past few years. Cold springs and long-lasting falls. All due, apparently, to the effects of the weather force called La Nina. La Nina has impacted Alberta the past two years and is said to continue this year.

No matter. Wise folks enjoy the seasons. No matter which above ground and below ground ‘experts’ toss out predictions. Smart folks call it simply, weather, dress accordingly, and know it will soon enough change.

For another take on Groundhog Day, see recent stories here, one from the Columbia Valley Pioneer in British Columbia and one from the Swan Hills Grizzly Gazette:

Photo by Jametlene Reskp on Unsplash

Happy Groundhogs Day!

By Chadd Cawson, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

There are nine species of groundhogs, also known as woodchucks, across North America, three which reside in Canada. The species that pops up in the Columbia Valley is the marmota mona petrensis.

Groundhogs, which thrive in prairie and wooded areas, belong to the group of large ground squirrels known as marmots, and are the second largest member of the ground squirrel family next, to the hoary marmot. 

Groundhogs have four incisor teeth, white to ivory white, which grow 1.5 millimetres (mm) per week, as their constant usage wears them down them the same amount weekly.  As herbivores, groundhogs eat a variety of plants and are known for taking tasty fruit and vegetable treats from people’s farms and gardens. They are also eat insects, snails, and grubs. Predators include grey wolves, badgers, coyotes and cougars. The length of the average adult groundhog is 68.5 centimetres (cm) including a tail up to nearly 19 cm. The average year-round weight of males is 3.83 kilograms (kg) while females weigh in a little less at 3.53 kg. In the wild they live up to six years of age; in captivity have reached the age of 14. 

Chuck in repetition

Groundhogs, also known as woodchucks, are distinguished by gender as he-chucks and she-chucks; their young are called chucklings, or pups. A group of groundhogs is called a repetition. Out of the entire ground squirrel family, groundhogs are the most solitary and do not form stable, long-term bonds, and only court to reproduce. Mating happens after groundhogs come out of hibernation at the end of February or beginning of March. After a gestation period of 32 days, she-chucks birth three to five chucklings that are born naked and blind. They are independent by two months of age.

 Hibernating hogs

Groundhogs hibernate; they retreat to their burrows in mid-fall and go into a deep slumber. Their body temperature drops from 37 to 3.3 degrees Celsius; their heart rate drops from 80 to four beats a minute. Aside from arising a few times to relieve themselves or step outside for a moment, hibernation can last up to five months for groundhogs. When they emerge from it, their bodies are thin and depleted. They make up for this during the spring and summer months. They are ravenous eaters and can consume rows of farmers crops.

Whistle pigs

Groundhogs are also called whistle pigs because they let out a whistle-like warning call when they sense danger. This alerts all other groundhogs around of dangers such as a low-flying hawk or another predator. Groundhogs fight and squabble with each other for their territories. Their defense tactics also include teeth chattering and tail swishing.

Down to earth

Groundhogs are said to have a significant connection to the earth and they represent stability and earth energy. In Indigenous cultures, it’s believed if a groundhog arrives as a spirit animal it’s an opportunity for self-examination and personal growth; it appears to help you leave negativity behind, while clearing the path for the emergence of one’s genuine self. 

Without a shadow without a doubt

The first Groundhog Day dates all the way back to February 2, 1887, when a rodent meteorologist was celebrated for the first time at Gobbler’s Knob in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania.

In 1887, a newspaper editor who belonged to a group of groundhog hunters called the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club, declared that a groundhog called Phil was America’s only true weather-forecasting groundhog. Since, the groundhog has always been referred to as Punxsutawney Phil.

According to tradition, if the groundhog does not see his shadow, then without a doubt, spring will come early. If he is startled by his silhouette, then it’s six more weeks of winter for all.

Original Published on Feb 02, 2023

Reprinted with permission from the Columbia Valley Pioneer, Invermere, British Columbia

Just How Accurate Is The Official Groundhog Of Groundhog Day?

By Dean LaBerge, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

The most famous groundhog for Groundhog Day is Punxsutawney Phil, a groundhog from Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, USA. Phil has been the star of the local Groundhog Day event held every February 2 since 1887.

Thousands of people gather every year in Punxsutawney to observe Phil’s prediction and celebrate the holiday. Punxsutawney Phil has become a cultural icon and is widely recognized as the “Official Groundhog of Groundhog Day.”

The tradition of Groundhog Day has its roots in ancient European pagan traditions, including the Celtic festival of Imbolc, which was celebrated on February 2 to mark the beginning of spring. With the spread of Christianity across Europe, Imbolc eventually evolved into the Christian religious holiday of Candlemas, celebrating the presentation of Jesus Christ at the holy temple in Jerusalem. 

Christians in some parts of Europe believed that a sunny Candlemas would signify an additional 40 days of cold weather and snow. When this belief was introduced in Germany, the Germans added their own take, only pronouncing the day sunny if small animals like the hedgehog saw their own shadows.

According to German lore, if the hedgehog saw its shadow on Candlemas, it would indicate a “second winter” or another six weeks of bad weather. If the animal in question did not see its shadow, it would signal an early spring. When German immigrants arrived in Pennsylvania in the 18th and 19th centuries, they brought the tradition with them and substituted the local groundhog as their weather prognosticator.

The Punxsutawney Groundhog Club has been responsible for the official Groundhog Day predictions made by Phil since the club’s founding in 1887. Each year, members of the Inner Circle (a group of local dignitaries who take on the responsibility of carrying on the Groundhog Day tradition every year) dress in top hats and tuxedos to perform the ceremony, in which they consult with Phil and make the official prediction.

While Groundhog Day and Punxsutawney Phil’s predictions have become a cultural phenomenon, they have not proven to be very accurate. Over the course of 135 years, Phil’s accuracy rate is only 39%. Nevertheless, the holiday continues to be celebrated every February 2, and Punxsutawney Phil remains one of the most famous groundhogs in the world.

Published on Feb 01, 2023 at 13:33

Reprinted with permission from The Grizzly Gazette, Swan Hills, Alberta

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