Punxsutawney Phil is correct only 52 percent of the time

Punxsutawney Phil
CC BY 2.0 Anthony Quintano/Flickr

Perhaps we should be seeking predictions from an octopus rather than a groundhog.

OK, not to cast shame on our beloved prognosticating giant rodent, Marmota monax, on his special day ... but as it turns out, Punxsutawney Phil doesn't really seem to be that in tune with the workings of the seasons. In fact, writes Daniel Ardia for Scientific American, "groundhogs don't have a clue."

The appeal of Punxsutawney Phil is the hope that his behavior in early February can give us insight into future weather up to six weeks in advance; he appears to do no better than a coin flip.

Oh dear.

Ardia goes on to compare Phil's shadow sightings with NOAA weather data going back to 1988, only to reveal that with 15 correct predictions and 14 incorrect, our soothsaying groundhog is more sham than psychic. But of course it's not his fault, we have only us silly humans and our unrealistic expectations to blame. And even so, in terms of groundhog awareness, Phil does a bang-up job – so he still gets accolades in my book.

If we really want to benefit from the psychic talents of the animal world, why don't we ask an octopus when we can expect spring to come? Remember amazing Paul? The common octopus was a master at selecting which team would win international football matches. He correctly chose the winning team in four out of six of Germany's Euro 2008 matches, and then all seven of their matches in the 2010 World Cup. All told, Paul was correct 12 times out of 14 for a success rate of 85.7 percent! (Seriously though, octopuses have so many superpowers we should really just leave them alone in their mysterious deep inky world and let them be them.)

In Ardia's piece about Phil, he explores a great point about oracular animals; the birds have been telling us about the weather all along. He writes, "Birds, on the other hand, have a rich (and perhaps more accurate) history of predicting future weather conditions, in proverbs such as 'Hawks flying high means a clear sky. When they fly low, prepare for a blow.'" And while proverbial bird behavior may tell of more immediate meteorological conditions, "migratory bird behavior during winter," he writes, "may predict better the upcoming weather."

So in the end maybe octopuses have better luck (or psychic powers, I mean) and birds may be more in tune with the seasons ... but if we can get hordes of people out in the morning to pay homage to a groundhog, who cares about accuracy? Spring will come one way or another.

Punxsutawney Phil is correct only 52 percent of the time
Perhaps we should be seeking predictions from an octopus rather than a groundhog.

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