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Can Ol’ Phil really tell us how a Mississippi winter will be? 


This year, whether you choose The Farmer’s Almanac, the groundhog, or meteorological science, know that no matter what, Mississippi weather is bound to be crazy year ‘round – not just in the winter. 

Silly as it may seem, when February 2nd rolls around each year, all eyes turn toward a lowly groundhog with much anticipation to learn if he sees his shadow, thus indicating whether or not we’ll have an additional six more weeks of winter weather. 

Nothing about this practice is rooted in science. In fact, if one merely jumps ahead six weeks from February 2, it is March 15 – and this year, the first day of spring is recognized on Tuesday, March 19th. So, whether Puxatawny Phil sees his shadow or not, the seasons dictate six weeks, plus some, of the actual season of winter. 

Yet another rule of thumb combats the simple scurrier’s shadow predictions— anyone who has ever planted a summer crop will tell you to wait until after Easter, as you’re less likely to see another freeze beyond that point. Easter, this year, is March 31st – nearly two weeks after the start of Spring. “It’s a pretty good rule,” says David Hartman, chief meteorologist at WAPT-TV in Jackson. “It has been developed by gardeners over many long years of observations. Sure, it may not always be true when Easter falls late i April, but in general it’s a good rule of thumb.”

Let’s take that one step further. It isn’t uncommon for a “warm Christmas” in Mississippi— temps in the 60s and 70s might be called unseasonable, but it occurs frequently in December in the South (and often serves as the precursor for severe weather outbreaks). 

While a groundhog may predict spring weather to arrive sooner, on the local scale, there’s always a bit of warmth and mugginess on tap for the Magnolia State. 

But still, this superstitious tradition of groundhog watching has been gripping the world since the Dutch first took root in Pennsylvania. And if anything, it gives the United States a brief glimmer of hope that the icy and wet El Nino winter we’ve had will eventually reach its end. 

Historically, has Puxatawny Phil had any luck predicting the rest of the winter forecast? And is he any more or less accurate than what many consider the bible of weather, The Farmer’s Almanac? 

Let’s look at the data. 

Phil and the Farmer

The groundhog may see his shadow for a longer winter, he may not see it indicating an earlier warm up, or he may not “report” at all, simply phoning it in and staying in burrowed in his coziness, using his one PTO day for the one day he is actually required to do anything for the human race. 

As fun as this Groundhog tradition is, the science indicates that you shouldn’t hang your hat on it. Hartman says Mississippi’s climate is nothing like Pennsylvania’s. “The odds of our weather being like Pennsylvania’s are slim to none. The event is a fun social event and really isn’t a good weather prediction.”

According to the National Centers for Environmental Information at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), that ol’ groundhog has only been right about 40% of the time in the last decade

Even if Phil is right four times out of ten, it is hard to say he is totally correct, given that in various regions throughout the United States, warm ups and cool downs vary throughout the year, even crossing the boundaries of the solstice. Again, it’s not uncommon to have days with temps in the 60s and even the low 70s in Mississippi during the winter. 

There does exist another long term forecasting source that is much more accurate, much more rooted in science, and much more trusted– The Farmer’s Almanac. 

Much like the groundhog, The Farmer’s Almanac won’t be relying on million-dollar supercomputers and the latest discoveries regarding climate and the atmosphere. The Farmer’s Almanac, however, relies on the time-tested knowledge of the climate and weather patterns, solar activity and tidal activity, according to the Scientific American. Another similarity with the groundhog, this is no named meteorological source of data. The Farmer’s Almanac refers to a “Caleb Weatherbee” as a source of information for their predictions. 

Unlike the groundhog, however, the Farmer’s Almanac claims to be right 80% of the time. With more determining factors in place, there is more room for at least some accuracy. But while the Farmer’s Almanac could predict a wetter, colder, milder winter,  if a polar vortex dumped eight inches of freezing rain, that is wetter and colder, but not necessarily milder weather. The Farmer’s Almanac can at least claim partial accuracy, as they often do. 

“From time to time, Mother Nature likes to show she has the last word,” is a common phrase on the Farmer’s Almanac website

So, what about Mississippi? 

The Farmer’s Almanac predicted this winter “The Southeast and Florida will see a wetter-than-normal winter, with average winter temperatures overall, but a few frosts may send many shivers to snowbirds trying to avoid the cold and snow back home.” This is thanks to El Niño weather patterns. So far, so good for that prediction, given that in the last two weeks, Mississippi has seen both flash flooding and frozen conditions in the north and central parts of the state. 

Last year, the groundhog predicted six more weeks of winter weather.

Weatherundergound.com showed that average temperatures in the month of February for Central Mississippi were around 58 degrees for the high, 48 degrees for the low, with an average of .19 inches in rain. 

NOAA recorded February 2023 holding an average high of 58 degrees, making it actually about five degrees warmer than typical winter weather patterns would have predicted. 

Again, we are arguing the validity of a groundhog here. While a forty percent groundhog prediction accuracy is impressive, the average Mississippian will sometimes need an outfit change more often than Taylor Swift to keep up with the weather and temperature changes throughout the day. 

This year, whether you choose The Farmer’s Almanac, the groundhog, or meteorological science, know that no matter what, Mississippi weather is bound to be crazy year ‘round – not just in the winter. 

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