Winter?

February 02, 2006

When Punxsutawney Phil pokes his beady little eyes out of his groundhog hole this morning, what will it mean if he sees his shadow? Can't be the traditional six more weeks of winter. Winter hasn't really started yet.

At least a dozen cities across this country and Canada report that January was among the mildest in memory. Baltimore recalls only a dozen such balmy starts to the year since 1871. Robins are in the trees, and late spring lilacs are beginning to bud.

Regardless of what Phil says, the warming trend under way over the past few decades - which resulted in last year being the world's hottest on record - isn't likely yet to repeal winter entirely here. The Sun's Frank D. Roylance reports that meteorologists expect jet stream air currents to soon plunge south, bringing frigid arctic air - perhaps even snow - with them. But maybe six weeks of winter is all that's coming this cycle.

Other regions of the world have not been so spared. It has been brutally cold in Eastern Europe, for example, adding to the trend of global weather extremes that are somehow becoming normal.

What's a hard-working, weather-prognosticating groundhog to do with such conditions? Phil (and presumably his predecessors) has been at this job for 120 years, juicing the local economy by attracting up to 35,000 visitors a year to the tiny Pennsylvania mountain town for a weeklong party.

Perhaps Phil ought to moonlight as a fortuneteller. He could predict how long it will take before winter is gone for good.

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