‘Early Spring or Six More Weeks of Winter’: Is the groundhog even accurate?

It's Groundhog Day once again, and many people tuned in or traveled to see Punxsutawney Phil, wondering if he will see his shadow (signaling six more weeks of winter) or not (heralding the early arrival of spring). For 2017, Phil called for winter's extended stay.

But Phil isn't the only groundhog in the game: there's Birmingham Bill as well as Chattanooga Chuck, and our neighbors in the north Atlanta area watch for General Beauregard Lee's prognostication.

And don't forget north Alabama's Sand Mountain Sam, who -- unlike his groundhog brethren -- is a possum from Albertville. For 2017, Sam called for an early spring in northern Alabama.

But let's be honest: How well do the various animals fare when it comes to predicting a long winter's stay or an early spring?

A few "ground" rules

For a project of this nature, there's a lot of variables to take into account.

First is the definition of "winter". When the animals make their prediction, they do so the morning of February 2. At that point, astronomical winter is more than halfway over, and the first day of spring can vary between March 19 and March 21. So for the purposes of this analysis, I defined the rest of "winter" to span from February 2 to March 22 (to account for all the "first days of spring"), which is a total of 48 days, or just under 7 weeks.

During that time, the "average of the "average" temperature in Huntsville is 47 degrees (as determined from local data retrieved from the NOAA Regional Climate Centers). For years in which the average temperature between February 2 and March 22 was above 47 degrees, I defined that to be "early spring." For years in which the average temperature was below 47 degrees, I called that "extended winter".

So how did the groundhogs -- and possum -- do?

how-did-the-groundhogs-do-last-5-winters

Punxsutawney Phil was correct for the past three years, but his "forecast" was a major bust in 2012, when he saw his shadow and "predicted" six more weeks of winter...only for Huntsville to experience a rather warm period that year.

Regarding Birmingham Bill... Well, I think this tweet sums it up for Bill:

Chattanooga Chuck has been fairly inconsistent.

As for Sand Mountain Sam, his record has allegedly been nearly perfect. Barry Galloway of 105.1 FM WQSB in Albertville told WHNT News 19's Sarah Macaluso via email, "Of Sam's 24 predictions....he has only missed 1 time...That was his very first prediction back in 1993 (yea....the year of the Major Snow Storm). So, 24-1 is a pretty good record."

What about years of "early spring"?

According to the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club, Phil's record of predictions span as far back in time as 1886. Here in Alabama, Birmingham Bill's record of service began in 1990, but the "shadow/no shadow" record keeping is spotty at times. Chattanooga Chuck's record goes back to the early 2010s (per various Google searches), and Sand Mountain Sam's predictions began in 1993, per Barry Galloway at 105.1FM WQSB in Albertville.

Below are the top 5 warmest "winters" for Huntsville, and many of them were years that occurred before Bill, Chuck and Sam were in service. With that said, Chuck and Sam were correct in 2012; Phil and Bill missed the mark.

Punxsutawney Phil did make the grade in 1918, 1938 and 1990.

how-did-punxsutawney-phil-do-warmest-winters

What about years of "extended winter"?

The same caveats regarding Bill, Chuck and Sam continue for the top 5 coldest "winters" in Huntsville. Notice that with the exception of 1960, Punxsutawney Phil was right on when he spotted his shadow. Regarding 1960, the year's data is missing in the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club's record-keeping.

how-did-punxsutawney-phil-do-coldest-winters

This data is for Huntsville. What about Birmingham, Chattanooga and Albertville?

If you are curious to know the Top 5 warmest and coldest "winters" for Birmingham, check out the data below.

Top 5 Warmest:

1.) 2012 57.4 degrees (Bill was incorrect)
2.) 1938 57.2 degrees (No data; Bill was not yet in service)
3.) 1918 57.1 degrees (No data; Bill was not yet in service)
4.) 1921 56.9 degrees (No data; Bill was not yet in service)
4.) 1897 56.9 degrees (No data; Bill was not yet in service)

Top 5 Coldest:

1.) 1947 41.3 degrees (No data; Bill was not yet in service)
2.) 1960 41.6 degrees (No data; Bill was not yet in service)
3.) 1958 42.5 degrees (No data; Bill was not yet in service)
4.) 1978 42.6 degrees (No data; Bill was not yet in service)
5.) 2010 43.9 degrees (Bill did not see his shadow, which is supposed to signal an early spring; I am marking Bill as incorrect.)

What about Albertville, where Sand Mountain Sam is located?
Note that Sam is in Albertville, but this type of data is not available for that town. For that reason, Guntersville data is substituted instead.

Top 5 Warmest:
1.) 1990 59.4 degrees (No data; Sam was not yet in service)
2.) 1976 54.3 degrees (No data; Sam was not yet in service)
3.) 1974 53.7 degrees (No data; Sam was not yet in service)
4.) 2012 53.5 degrees (Sam was correct, according to WQSB)
5.) 1957 53.0 degrees (No data; Sam was not yet in service)

Top 5 Coldest:

1.) 1960 38.9 degrees (No data; Sam was not yet in service)
2.) 1958 39.4 degrees (No data; Sam was not yet in service)
3.) 1978 40.9 degrees (No data; Sam was not yet in service)
4.) 2010 41.5 degrees (Sam was correct, according to WQSB)
4.) 1970 41.5 degrees (No data; Sam was not yet in service)

What about Chattanooga, where Chuck is located?
If you are curious to know the Top 5 warmest and coldest "winters" for Chattanooga, check out the data below. Note that data for Chuck is spotty at best.

Top 5 Warmest:

1.) 2012 54.4 degrees (Chuck was correct)
1.) 1938 54.4 degrees (No data regarding Chuck's predictions)
3.) 1921 53.8 degrees (No data regarding Chuck's predictions)
4.) 1927 53.6 degrees (No data regarding Chuck's predictions)
5.) 1882 53.1 degrees (No data regarding Chuck's predictions)

Top 5 Coldest:

1.) 1960 36.4 degrees (No data regarding Chuck's predictions)
2.) 1947 37.8 degrees (No data regarding Chuck's predictions)
3.) 1958 38.9 degrees (No data regarding Chuck's predictions)
4.) 1895 39.3 degrees (No data regarding Chuck's predictions)
5.) 1941 39.9 degrees (No data regarding Chuck's predictions)