| Posted: Friday, Feb 01, 2013 06:15 pm
The cold snap might be over, but is it gone for good? Only the groundhog knows.
It’s Groundhog Day this Saturday, and thousands of North Americans will be paying close attention to some famous subterranean weather forecasters in order to find out if they’ve escaped the worst of winter yet.
St. Albert weathered another bout of frigid weather this week, with temperatures bottoming out at around -29.1 C at the St. Albert Research Station Tuesday morning.
Tuesday was actually the coldest day in Edmonton since Jan. 18, 2012, said Environment Canada meteorologist Dan Kulak, with the thermometer dipping to -32.1 C. “Your nose would have thought (it was) -43 or -44,” he added, accounting for wind-chill.
The two-day cold snap kept public works staff indoors for most of Tuesday doing paperwork, said operations manager Bruce Thompson.
They were back on the streets Wednesday with thick coats, hats and winter steel-toed boots, he continued, but even then only for 20 minutes at a stretch, taking frequent shelter in warm cars and buildings. “They’re being cautious and watching for potential signs of frostbite.”
The St. Albert Food Bank was giving out blankets and mittens to those who needed them, said director Suzan Krecsy, as well as bus tickets to shelters in Edmonton.
Homeless residents are particularly at risk of hypothermia under these conditions, she said, the signs of which they might miss due to substance abuse. Others who don’t have a car may struggle to get to work. Many are already suffering from poor nutrition. “Couple that with their addictions, and their health is very compromised.”
The cold snap was done by Friday, with temperatures predicted to be near or above zero by Saturday.
It’s also supposed to be cloudy in Edmonton, according to Environment Canada, which means local groundhogs might have trouble spotting their shadows.
Groundhog Day is when Punxsutawney Phil, Wiarton Willie, Balzac Billy and other famous groundhogs are reputed to predict the weather by popping out of their dens. If they see their shadows, legend holds, they will head back to bed, signalling six more weeks of winter.
This myth relates to an old saying about Candlemas Day from Europe, said David Phillips, senior climatologist with Environment Canada, and was originally applied to hedgehogs. “It doesn’t necessarily work here because we have a different climate.”
Groundhogs hibernate all winter, said Mark Edwards, curator of mammology at the Royal Alberta Museum, but will occasionally poke their heads above ground in search of a snack if the weather’s nice.
Phillips’ study of weather conditions around Feb. 2 in 13 Canadian communities found that groundhogs were about 37 per cent accurate when it came to predicting the end of winter – marginally better than flipping a coin. Edmonton groundhogs were less accurate, being right just 26 per cent of the time.
Cold air masses cause clear, shadow-casting skies, Phillips said, which could explain why the groundhog’s predictions are slightly better than chance – a cold weather system could hang around for a few weeks after Groundhog Day, causing a longer winter.
“It seems a little odd that we could use the pronouncements of a furry rodent to tell us what the future is going to be,” Phillips said. Those predictions might not be scientifically accurate, but they do play an important social purpose. “They give us some hope.”
But don’t expect to see any around here this month, Edwards said. “There’s not a lot for them to eat right now,” he noted, so most local groundhogs will stay in bed until around May.