The legend of the groundhog comes from an old weather tradition attached to the holiday called Candlemas. If the day of Candlemas (February 2) begins bright and sunny, winter is only half-way done; but if Candlemas begins with clouds, winter is over and we can expect an early spring. Tales of the groundhog and his shadow perpetuate this tradition, and the town of Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, has claimed the national groundhog for the United States—only because they said so first.
I have always held that each region of the country has its own groundhog and its own weather predictions. The region where I live began the Second of February with a cloudy sky, although the skies cleared and the sun broke through by midmorning. Although Punxsutawney’s groundhog forecast six more weeks of winter, our local groundhog would have said that winter was over—an ironic prediction, since we had very little winter weather the last several weeks before Groundhog Day. A few times the overnight temperature dipped below freezing and frost had to be cleaned off the car in the morning, but that was it for winter weather. In fact, this region had experienced no measurable snowfall for more than one thousand days—the fourth-longest “snow drought” for this region since people began keeping records of the weather.
It appears that our regional groundhog stayed out for a while on his day and did not stick with the dawn forecast. Winter has arrived with a vengeance. The polar vortex (which would be a great name for a rock band) met moisture from the gulf, producing a layer of ice last Thursday, followed by many inches of snow yesterday and today. More snow is expected midweek. Travel is next to impossible, and most businesses are closed. This snow is like the snows of my childhood up north. But the state and city governments in this region invest little money in snow removal and road treatment. Most snows melt and disappear within twenty-four hours. This winter weather is expected to linger. We even need to leave the faucets dripping to keep the pipes from freezing, as our overnight and early morning low temperatures will be in the single digits and may even reach zero degrees Fahrenheit.
But, in this ever-changing world, snow days are not what they used to be. Rather than proclaiming the closing of schools, internet announcements are declaring that classes will be held only online. Students and teachers will remain at home, but the snow day will not be a holiday. School buildings will be closed, but classes will still be held. Younger children may not be aware of the change, but surely parents and (especially) teachers might resent the disappearance of an old friend—that unscheduled holiday of a snow day when classes are cancelled and young people go outside and frolic in the flakes.
Trusting the forecast, yesterday I dug into the corner of our shed and found our snow shovel. Dust and cobwebs were removed, and it stands by the front door, waiting to be used. The snow is still falling, so I will wait until afternoon before beginning the snow removal. That also was a game when I was young, clearing the path of snow, building a range of ephemeral mountains for imaginary explorers to conquer. Rejoicing in the beauty of snow and finding jollification in its presence helps one remain young at heart, I believe. Old Man Winter might make other people grouchy, but in my household he remains a welcome if a rare and brief guest. J.