We Fact-Checked Punxsutawney Phil's Early Spring Prediction for Groundhog Day

A Portland State climate professor takes on the weather-predicting rodent ... with science.

By Marty Patail February 2, 2016

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This morning, Punxsutawney Phil emerged from his wooden cage and did not see his shadow. Translation of this puzzling nineteenth-century tradition: get ready for an early spring.

We asked Paul Loikith, an assistant professor and regional climate expert in Portland State's geography department, to fact-check the groundhog's prediction. Loikith was patient enough to humor us and cited predictive models for the Northwest made by NOAA's Climate Prediction Center.

"All indications are, for the next several weeks to a month—and even out to one to three months—we’ll have above-average temperatures. And the chances of that are about as high as it can get, from a seasonal climate forecast perspective. The professional in me would never say, expect an early spring, but the current seasonal climate forecasts are for above average temperatures from here through the three-month period."

Loikith declined to extrapolate what that might mean for the summer months.

"There are forecasts that go beyond that, but they’re generally considered experimental. They’re more robust in the winter time. As you start to head into the spring and summer, when the effects of El Niño are less impactful, it becomes a little more difficult to make seasonal forecasts with certainty." 

Still, the verdict is in: the rodent just may be right. Warmer temps, ahead.

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