On Feb. 2, Punxsutawney Phil, the so-called Seer of Seers, Sage of Sages, Prognosticator of Prognosticators, Weather Prophet Extraordinary, will make his annual prediction on the future of winter weather. Speaking in Groundhogese to the Groundhog Pope — the only human capable of talking directly to Phil — the rodent will determine conclusively whether or not we will suffer through another arduous New Haven winter.
Groundhog Day is a particularly American phenomenon. It combines Christian traditions from England, Scotland and Germany, European pagan rites and Native American creation myths into a holiday that makes no sense.
At the Christian holy day of Candlemas, held at midwinter, priests would hand out blessed candles to provide symbolic light for the remainder of winter. It came to be believed that the weather on Candlemas would predict the severity of the rest of winter. As the Scots say, “If Candlemas day be bright and clear, there’ll be two winters in this year.”
Meanwhile, in North America, the Delaware Native Americans believed that the spirit Wojak, the groundhog, was the ancestral grandfather of their tribe. The simple woodsmen of Pennsylvania adopted this Native American totem as the symbol of Candlemas, and Groundhog Day was born. Punxsutawney Phil is said to live on dog food, ice cream and the mysterious groundhog punch, which grants “everlasting youth,” enabling him to predict the weather every year since 1887.
This year, as he has 94 times in the past, Phil will likely see his shadow (this happens 87.04 percent of the time, although records do not exist for some early years) meaning that winter will end sometime close to the spring equinox and not — surprise, surprise — in the middle of February.
In fact, according to this prognosticator, Phil fails to see his shadow only in years when near-retirement quarterbacks, or quarterbacks with something to prove, win the Super Bowl: He did it for Joe Montana (1990), for Steve Young (1995), for Brett Favre (1997) and for John Elway (1999). With this year’s football championship a contest between two young bucks, it looks like we may be in for another doozy of a winter.
But for those I hear complaining so much about New Haven’s climate, you have another thing coming. According to Ellsworth Huntington GRD 1909, Yale’s own famous geographer, climatologist and explorer of the Middle and Far East (also Yale’s own infamous racist), New Haven receives a score of 99 out of 100 on the scale of most physically suitable places to live. This makes New Haven, according to Ellsworth, the single best place to live in the entire world. Granted, Ellsworth was writing in the 1910s and ’20s, before the creation of “global warming,” “el nino” or “peer review.”
Nevertheless, according to the 1928 New Haven Health Survey, with the city’s mean temperature in July and September slightly less than 68 degrees, the yearlong average humidity hovering at 80 percent, an abundant yearly rainfall of close to 44 inches, only 6.9 foggy days per year and an average wind velocity of a feeble 9.2 miles per hour, New Haven is ideal for peak human physical activity. In fact, from 1916-1926, the sun shone in New Haven 60.1% of all the possible hours the sun could shine (which is pretty damn good).
Despite hating on the great majority of places he visited in the United States and Canada, notoriously picky traveler Charles Dickens declared in his “American Notes” that New Haven pleased him a great deal and that Hillhouse Avenue was an especially picturesque street.
On the other hand, Dickens was obsessed with little boys.
Andrew Smeall is obsessed with little rodents.