How Accurate Are Punxsutawney Phil's Forecasts?

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This morning at Gobbler’s Knob in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, weather-predicting groundhog Phil saw his shadow, which means he's calling for six more weeks of winter-like conditions. Don't get too bummed, though—Phil's recent track record isn't that great on the national level.

The tradition started in 1887, and since then, the groundhog chosen to represent Phil has seen his shadow 101 times. There have only been 17 instances when he hasn't seen it. (There are nine years without any record of Phil's prediction).

The National Climatic Data Center tallied Phil's predictions since 1988. They then compared the average national temperatures in February and March for each year with those months' 20th century averages to see how well Punxsutawney Phil performed. Now, it's important to keep in mind the difference between weather and climate here. It is also important to remember that this is a magical groundhog we're talking about.

In 2014, Phil was right on the money. After he saw his shadow, the country endured the 37th coldest February on record (1.6°F below the 20th century average) and the 43rd coldest March (1.0°F below the 20th century average). Compared with his other predictions, however, it seems that Phil got lucky.

Between 1988 and 2013, Phil saw his shadow 17 times. After predicting six more weeks of winter for those years, there were 12 Februarys with above-average temperatures in the U.S. and 13 above-average Marches. Of the eight times he did not see his shadow, which portends an early spring, he fared better—there wound up being four below-average Februarys and one below-average March. (Check out the full table here.)

Phil has predicted 100% correctly in only five of the 26 years the National Climatic Data Center analyzed (1990, 1995, 1997, 1999, 2014). Other than in 2014, he only nailed the years in which he forecasted an early spring. Considering the contiguous United States just experienced its 18th consecutive year with an above-average annual temperature, Phil may be wise to play the numbers and always predict an early spring.

Then again, perhaps we expect too much from a marmot with no access to nationwide climate data.