Canadian groundhogs issue clashing weather predictions

Published on February 2, 2016

Canada's celebrity groundhogs issued clashing forecasts Tuesday but one of the country's most prominent meteorologists said the debate over spring's arrival is moot.

“Spring has been here from the get-go,” David Phillips, a senior climatologist with Environment Canada, said as the four-legged forecasters made their predictions. “We've just not had a winter.”

Ontario's Wiarton Willie nonetheless called for six more weeks of cold weather, drawing cheers from fans who gathered for the albino woodchuck's 60th anniversary.

The country's most famous rodent did not actually emerge but somehow saw its shadow.

Nova Scotia's Shubenacadie Sam, meanwhile, took a more optimistic stance in predicting spring's imminent arrival.

Although it was a brisk morning, a sign stuck in the snow outside Sam's shed read “Yay! I didn't see my shadow,” making it clear Sam expects warmer weather to be on its way.

In the end, it was two against one, as Pennsylvania's Punxsutawney Phil, arguably the best-known weather predicting woodchuck, also predicted an early end to winter.

According to tradition, if the groundhog doesn't see its shadow when it emerges from its burrow on Groundhog Day, an early spring is in store.

Seasonally normal-to-warm temperatures are expected this month, while the next few months will be more balmy, Phillips said.

So far, winter has been “non-existent” in many parts of the country, he said, noting Toronto is experiencing its second-warmest winter on record.

The city is expected to see the mercury soar to 14C on Wednesday, roughly five degrees higher than the previous record for that day, he said.

Willie's prediction might better reflect the weather in his region, given that the Great Lakes have a different micro-climate than the rest of Ontario, he said.

It's not unusual, however, to have differing forecasts, even among meteorologists, he said.

“You're never going to have consensus.”

Nova Scotia's Natural Resources Minister Lloyd Hines, who was on hand for Sam's announcement, said he's learned to trust the province's rodent.

“I would say that he's made some pretty accurate predictions over time, probably marginally on par with Environment Canada,” he said. “We've come to rely on what he's had to say.”

Canada was short one prediction this year, as Groundhog Day festivities were marred by the death of Canada's westerly prognosticator, Winnipeg Willow.

Celebrations were in Manitoba due out of respect for Willow, who died last Friday at the Prairie Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre.

Punxsutawney Phil's handlers noted Willow's passing, saying they were surprised by news of the death of Phil's colleague.