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Shubenacadie Sam unlikely to see his shadow

Shubenacadie Sam, a rodent who is said to have the gift of meteorological foresight, probably won’t see his shadow. according to more scientific methods. (COMMUNICATIONS NOVA SCOTIA)
Shubenacadie Sam, a rodent who is said to have the gift of meteorological foresight, probably won’t see his shadow. according to more scientific methods. (COMMUNICATIONS NOVA SCOTIA) - Communications Nova Scotia

Friday is Groundhog Day

Shubenacadie Sam and Two Rivers Tunnel aren’t likely to see their shadows Friday morning, when the Nova Scotia wildlife park rodents are expected to make their annual Groundhog Day weather predictions.

But whether that will actually mean an early spring or not is really not the point, says meteorologist Cindy Day.

According to a tradition dating back hundreds of years, if a groundhog sees its shadow on Feb. 2 it means six more weeks of winter. If it does not see its shadow, spring will arrive early.

Environment Canada, and Day, say Friday is likely to be overcast and rainy. Ironically, Feb. 2 in Halifax has historically been the coldest day of the winter, Day said.

“That whole six-more-weeks-of-winter sort of evolved from the initial folklore that said if the groundhog saw his shadow there would be a second winter, which would mean we still have more winter weather to come,” Day said.

“There was no time put on it.”

Groundhog Day in North America dates back to at least 1888, but it was imported as folklore from Holland and Germany and also has roots in church traditions imported from Scotland.

In the Northern Hemisphere, the spring equinox this year is on March 20. If a groundhog sees its shadow, that means winter would end six weeks later, on March 16, making for an early spring no matter what.

However, said Day, meteorologists define winter as December-January-February, so six more weeks of winter after Feb. 2 would actually extend the season beyond its date prescribed by the Earth’s position relative to the sun.

There’s no scientific basis behind predictions made by the largest member of the squirrel family, she said, because they are based on changeable local weather conditions.

“What’s so funny is it’s probably the most-talked-about (weather predictor) and well-known around the world, and yet there’s an impossibility that what happens in a few minutes on any one given day could reflect the incoming weather for the next six weeks,” Day said.

“Let’s say on Feb. 2 it’s a clear day but there’s a band of cloud drifting through over Shubenacadie. Well then, (Sam) won’t see his shadow. He’ll stay out and apparently winter is over. But if 10 minutes later that cloud bank moved, a shift of 10 minutes would affect the next six weeks, so there’s no scientific correlation at all.

“But it’s the most fun day of the year for a lot of people.”

Because they are in the Atlantic time zone, Shubenacadie Sam and Two Rivers Tunnel are the earliest winter prognosticators in North America.

Sam is expected to make an appearance at 8 a.m. at the Shubenacadie Wildlife Park. Tunnel will make an appearance at 11:22 a.m. at Two Rivers Wildlife Park on the Mira River near Huntington, southwest of Marion Bridge in Cape Breton.

The Shubenacadie park says Sam is 100 per cent accurate, but the weather doesn’t always agree.

Sam’s 8 a.m. prediction will be broadcast live at www.novascotiawebcams.com/en/webcams/shubenacadie-sam/. The mainland groundhog is also on Twitter @ShubenacadieSam.

On Groundhog Day, the Shubenacadie park will offer free hot drinks, displays, face painting and crafts, as well as a guided nature walk.

In Cape Breton, Groundhog Day activities start at 11 a.m. and Tunnel’s weather prediction is expected to be followed by coasting and skating, weather permitting.

The event also kicks off the park’s annual Winter Frolic weekend, with coasting, skating, snowshoeing and wagon rides.

Day said studies have shown the most famous groundhog, Punxsutawney Phil in the United States, has been about 39 per cent accurate with his predictions.

Wiarton Willie in Ontario was only about 25 per cent correct, while Shubenacadie Sam has sported a 45 per cent accuracy rate, she said.

“Whether the groundhog is right or wrong is irrelevant now, but it’s just become a lot of fun,” Day said. “Kids love it. We build festivals around it, and school outings.

“It’s just a lot of fun and it’s a nice break, too, in the middle of our winter.”

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