Animal Meteorologists: Should We Trust the Tradition?

Lily Bugg

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You’ve probably been hearing the story of groundhog day since you were little. If “Phil the Groundhog” saw his shadow, we were in for a longer winter. If he couldn’t find his shadow, then we knew we were going to have a nice, early spring. February 2nd is groundhogs day. Do you believe in the tradition?

This is a popular tradition that’s been going on for quite a while. It originally started in 1887, Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania. The local newspaper editor pitched the idea to local businessmen and hunters, and the men went to an area called the “Gobblers Knob” and had to return with the information that the groundhog did, in fact, see his own shadow. The tradition is now celebrated by themed events. Surprisingly, the animals are around 40% accurate. Groundhogs live for around 10 years, but “Punxsutawney Phil” according to the legend, is over 125 years old.

Now, what about other furry creatures’ predictions? You might recall seeing really, really fuzzy, dark brown or black caterpillars. These are also said to be used for weather predictions. These are called “woolly bear caterpillars” and if they appear to be more orange than dark brown or black, then winter will be bearable. You will see these little critters around late summer or early autumn. They are common in more grassy or rural areas. 

My cows are my way of knowing if a storm is coming,” says land owner Georgia Shook. “They seem to really know what’s going to happen.” This is actually a very common way for people on farms to tell if bad weather is brewing. Cows are sensitive creatures, and they will start to fidget and become anxious if bad weather is close. A few farm animals can give you signs to watch for the weather, but cows and horses are the more common ones. They might seem to be in a bad mood or be a bit more temperamental than usual.

You’ve also most likely seen flocks of birds travelling together, and that’s because they go South for the winter. They don’t actually predict the weather, they just confirm that a cold front is coming in. Birds are also said to fly closer to the ground if there are storms approaching, and higher up if there is nice weather coming up. This is most likely due to the air pressure dropping and rising, and they move accordingly to their comfort. That logic is more science-based rather than tradition, unlike the groundhog day. Paying attention to the way animals behave is a some-what accurate way of being able to know the upcoming weather, but you might still want to tune into your local weather channel.