By Bob Groeneveld
While climate change is making weather more and more difficult for human forecasters to predict, groundhogs and other furry creatures have been maintaining their accuracy rates through the changes.
Admittedly, they’ve never been particularly good at narrowing down the end of winter any less than between “another six weeks” and “just two weeks left.”
Even at that, their accuracy, like that of most weather forecasters, has always been suspect. Famed American winter’s-end forecaster Punxsutawney Phil has only 37 percent in the win column.
Ontario’s Wiarton Willie scores only an abysmal 25 percent on the the scientific scale, although local supporters offer a far more convincing anecdotal record of 90 percent wins. (It should be noted that scientists are inclined to offer sober calculations, while the local celebrations heralding Willie’s annual February 2nd announcements often include copious amounts of alcohol.)
Both Willie and Fred La Marmotte of Quebec have agreed this year that a late spring is foreshadowed, while their Nova Scotia cousin Shubenacadie Sam claimed last weekend that winter is a done deal.
The list of putative weather-wise groundhogs is long. Ohio offers Buckeye Chuck, Staten Island Chuck makes predictions from (where else?) Staten Island, and General Beauregard Lee has the improbable duty of assigning an end to winter in Georgia.
And of course, Alberta’s Balzac Billy is a fake groundhog – a mascot in a suit made of a petrochemical-based material,
Here on the coast we pin our winter-ending hopes on a Vancouver Island marmot. (Colorado also looks to a marmot, Stormy the yellow-bellied marmot, for seasonal wisdom.) Van Island Violet, whose predictive powers might explain why her clan has been to the brink of extinction, says we’re getting another six weeks of winter – an easy bet, of course, since around here, winter and rain are synonymous… and rain is ubiquitous.
It’s time Langley got in on the act. There must be something at the zoo in Aldergrove that can see whether or not the sun’s up on February 2nd… maybe a squirrel monkey? Squirrelly Sue?
Non-human predictive reasoning has been harnessed from creatures far beyond fuzzy groundhogs and marmots, especially in sports, where even an octopus has been used to determine the probable outcome of World Cup soccer matches.
That octopus notwithstanding, it seems reasonable that certain types of creatures should be better suited to demonstrating predictive power in some arenas than others.
Penguins have been right about the Stanley Cup five times so far. Ducks, meanwhile, have naturally shown far less success, and probably should stick to water sports.
Meanwhile, on a more scientific note, viruses have been used for the past couple of decades to predict the average IQ of anti-vaxxers active in a given area, showing a remarkably accurate correlation between increasing viral activity and decreasing intelligence.
Perhaps, instead of talking-head pundits on national cable and broadcast news channels, we should consider using rats and snakes to predict political trends.
A rat might have seen Trump coming.
In a past life, Bob Groeneveld was editor of the Langley Advance and the Maple Ridge Times. Now he writes when and what he feels like. He has been sharing his Odd Thoughts with readers for more than 40 years. Visit with him on Facebook.