By Barry Fulmer
WDRB News Director
It’s just about that time to watch old men pull an overweight weasel out of a fake tree stump to predict the weather. Meteorologists on TV can’t stand it, and here’s why.
Science vs. Guessing
Meteorology is a science. The meteorologists you see on TV spent years in college studying the science of weather so they can deliver accurate forecasts. They compile multiple reports each day and constantly adjust the forecast as conditions change. They pride themselves on solid information. Punxsutawney Phil is a shot-in-the-dark guess which has nothing to do with science. The small town of Punxsutawney is an economically-depressed village which roars to life once a year. After an all-night party with no shortage of alcohol, the brown rat is dragged out of a box disguised as a tree stump.
It’s tradition, folklore and fun, but there is no science involved.
Belief vs. Relief
Thousands, maybe millions, of people support and believe what Punxsutawney Phil predicts. If you’re a meteorologist, it makes you nervous because people compare what you say to Phil. Forecasters shouldn’t worry, but it could be intimidating to know that so many people actually do buy into the old Pennsylvanian scam. If you live in Florida, six more weeks of winter means practically nothing. If you live in Northern Michigan, chances are, snow is something you can count on for 12 more weeks.
Phil’s forecast means almost nothing to most of the country, but the people will always compare the rat to the meteorologist. Taking a closer look, the timing of this big event is also suspicious. Groundhog day is always on February 2. Spring starts, this year, on March 20th which is just a hair over six weeks from now.
Spring will be here soon, no matter what the brown rats says.
I have worked in TV my entire career, part of it in Philadelphia and Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. I can tell you that I would put my trust in the meteorologists at WDRB before I ever put an ounce of credibility into an animal from the rat family.
In television, producers bundle similar stories together. Watch this year and you will see the Punxsutawney Phil story placed just before or just after a weather segment. Watch the meteorologist squirm as the news anchors drag the meteorologist into the conversation. The meteorologist will keep the conversation short and do anything to move on. It’s an attack on their science! Most meteorologists would pay producers $100 to not be remotely connected to the story.
Growing up in Pennsylvania, you would think Groundhog Day was a national holiday. It made headlines in the newspaper. It was the talk of the town for a week after the big announcement. This sham has been going on since 1887, and this year will be no different than any other. A false prediction from a groundhog will be made, believers will believe, and meteorologists will wish they called in sick that day.
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