Will almanac or groundhog get it right?

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Former suggests snowy month, latter will tell us on Saturday.

By Lisa King

Will it be a long cold winter?

Are we in for another month (or more!) of ice, snow, slush and just general nasty weather?

Almanacs have been traditional sources of information for people who want to get a long-term picture of the winter season, especially for farmers, who have to schedule their activities and their lives around the weather.

But how accurate are those sources, really?

Horticulture Agent Walt Reichert of the Shelby County Extension Office said you have to take those long-term weather predictions with a grain of salt.

“The most popular, the Old Farmer’s Almanac, is calling for a cold February with temperatures below normal and maybe a little wetter than usual, with more rain and snow,” Reichert said.

But if you look back at the almanac’s prior predictions, they are not always correct.

“Very often, they will call for a really cold winter, like they did last year, but it wasn’t,” he said. “And to me, I always wonder how they can predict the weather for the entire winter when they can’t even get a short-term forecast right.”

Then, if you throw Groundhog Day, coming up Saturday, into the mix, the long-term forecast becomes even more confusing.

Groundhog Day, a popular tradition in the United States, a legend that traverses centuries, suggests the day that the groundhog supposedly comes out of his hole after a long winter sleep to look for his shadow.

If he sees it, he regards it as an omen of 6 more weeks of bad weather and returns to his hole.

If the day is cloudy and, hence, shadowless, he takes it as a sign of spring and stays above ground.

So, if forecasters are right and we have bad weather Saturday, when there is a 60 percent chance of snow, then spring is just around the corner, thanks to the groundhog. But if that happens, then the almanac’s scenario of another cold, wet month would be wrong.

But what if a groundhog in the northern end of the county were to see his shadow, and a different groundhog in the southern end were to have a different experience?

What then?

“We’ll just have to wait and see,” Reichert said.

State and local road crews don’t plan to wait for either the groundhog’s prediction or to see how the almanac’s forecast works out. They are relying instead on the National Weather Service, which predicted snow and frigid temperatures for Thursday night and cold but dry temps tonight and snow showers for Saturday night.

Those crews were out late into the night Thursday night, salting roads and just being on standby for nasty weather.

“We are predicting less an inch of accumulation for tonight [Thursday], with lows around 12 [degrees], with a chance of snow seventy percent,” NWS meteorologist Robert Szappanos said Thursday afternoon.

Andrea Clifford, spokesperson for the Transportation Cabinet, said state crews were preparing to be busy.

“Our crews usually go home at four o’clock [p.m.], but tonight [Thursday] we are holding them over,” she said. “There is light precipitation predicted. But even though it’s supposed to taper off, our concern is that there is the possibility of it refreezing.”

How cold will it be this morning?

Szappanos said that in Shelbyville, temperatures would not get anywhere near the record low of 7 degrees for Feb. 1 set in 1937.

The snowfall predicted for Saturday does not call for any significant accumulation, either.

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the snowiest days in Kentucky are traditionally in January and February. The snowiest January day in Shelbyville was 15.5 inches of snow on Jan. 17, 1994, and the most snow in February was on Feb. 4, 1998, with 11.6 inches, NOAA reported.