Fun with Forecasts

Fun with Forecasts

Posted: January 30, 2012

Road trip! A group of Buffalo State students are heading off to Pennsylvania on Wednesday, February 1, to meet one of America’s biggest celebrities—Punxsutawney Phil.

“Well, truth be told, we don’t really meet Punxsutawney Phil,” said Stephen Vermette, professor of geography and planning. “We hike up Gobblers Knob to join the 4:00 a.m. festivities and wait, along with tens of thousands of other folks, for Phil’s furry little head to poke up. This experience is a celebration of the roots of climatology in this country.”

The tradition, of course, is that if the famous groundhog sees his shadow, there will be six more weeks of winter. Vermette, coordinator of the meteorology and climatology program at Buffalo State, established the tradition of joining the festivities in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania several years ago. “For millennia,” he said, “people have tried to predict the weather. It’s not surprising that traditions like this exist.”

Efforts to predict the weather—based on astrology and the behavior of plants and animals—date back more than two thousand years. Modern science’s role in predicting the weather is relatively recent, and has debunked most traditional folklore practices.

“I think the folklore about Punxsutawney Phil is just kind of a fun way to get through the winter,” said Melissa Bender, a senior who is active in the Meteorology and Climatology Club. “In Pennsylvania and New York, winter is going to be winter as long as it wants to be!”

Bender, who is majoring in both music education and in an individualized study program focusing on climatology, said that she has always been interested in the weather and the environment. She is looking forward to the trip, one of many field trips offered by the Geography and Planning Department. “A group of us are driving down in a van,” she said, “and we’re going to spend the night in a theater down there.” The theater will be showing—what else?—Groundhog Day.

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