‘Shadowy’ Ritual Spotlights Science of Climatology

Punxsutawney Phil may not be a member of the American Meteorological Society, but he sure has the attention of the weather world.

Groundhog DayThat’s why Stephen Vermette, professor of geography and planning, organized a trip for six Buffalo State students to Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, February 1–2 to see the groundhog’s prognostication firsthand. The goal of the annual overnight trip, which is sponsored by the School of Natural and Social Sciences, is to generate interest in the meteorology and climatology minor.

“Groundhog Day is a climatology holiday,” Vermette said. “While it is a light-hearted look at weather, Groundhog Day is still an opportunity to increase awareness of our climate.”

Launched in 2003, the meteorology and climatology minor provides students with a broad experience and level of expertise to obtain employment in weather-sensitive businesses or to enter graduate school in fields related to meteorology. With a focus on applied experiences, meteorology and climatology students attend presentations and conferences, join the American Meteorological Society (AMS), and take weather-related field trips, like the one to Punxsutawney.

On Friday night, the group arrived ready to take in the atmosphere of the small Pennsylvania town, visiting souvenir shops and the Punxsutawney Weather Discovery Center, and watching the motion picture Groundhog Day, starring Bill Murray, at midnight. After a short night’s rest, Vermette, his students, and about 30,000 others ventured up Gobbler’s Knob to the site of the famous forecast.

At sunrise, Bill Cooper, president of the Groundhog Club’s Inner Circle, announced Phil’s prognostication to the crowd: “As I look around me, a bright sky I see, and a shadow beside me. Six more weeks of winter it will be!”

Although the prediction was greeted by a chorus of boos, Vermette’s students, while disappointed with the forecast, enjoyed the trip. “Not only did the students have a great time, they took part in a major cultural event,” Vermette said.

When asked to predict if Phil’s forecast is accurate and whether Western New Yorkers will have to endure six more weeks of winter, Vermette played it safe.

“I have no idea,” he said with a laugh. “Another groundhog from the area, Dunkirk Dave, did not see his shadow, which signifies an early spring. We’ll just have to wait and see.”