Clear Weather

Groundhogs vs. scientists: the competition continues

Reader question: Punxsutawney Phil, Sir Walter Wally and Snerd are lousy weather forecasters. Is there really anyway to predict an early spring?

Thanks for the question! Forecasters would like to think that we can predict an early spring better than a sleepy little rodent. Despite today being National Weather Person's Day, I have to admit even we have our misses.

I've written before about how the Climate Prediction Center takes global conditions into account when making its seasonal outlooks. Phenomena such as El Nino/Southern Oscillation, which is basically a measure of the warmth or coolness relative to average sea surface temperature of the Pacific Ocean between South American and Australia, are considered when making these predictions.

Last fall, that area of the Pacific had started to warm, so climate forecasters thought we were heading into a strong El Nino, which would have affected North Carolina's weather by increasing our chances for wintry precipitation. The seasonal forecasts for winter predicted as much. Then that same region cooled back to normal temperatures, and the forecast fell apart.

Currently, the CPC says that the eastern third of the nation has equal chances for at, above, or below normal temperatures and precipitation from now through April. I'd say our local groundhogs, Sir Walter Walley and Snerd have equal chances of being as right as anyone else in that case. Even the best-yet science can be wrong nearly as often as it can be right when it comes to long-range forecasting - one more reason that meteorologists continue research and improvements to the computer models used in making those predictions.