Posted February 2, 2020
It’s time to break out everyone’s favorite weather predictor, Phil the groundhog.
You know the story about “Punxsutawney Phil, Seer of Seer, Sage of Sages, Prognosticator of Prognosticators and Weather-Prophet Extraordinary,” so named by the “Punxsutawney Groundhog Club” in the late 1880s.
In Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, the world’s most famous groundhog comes out of his little burrow, sniffs the air, checks out his shadow, and will either emerge completely or slip back into his burrow.
Question is, how reliable is Phil the groundhog at predicting Spring’s arrival? And are there other animals that can more accurately predict or measure the weather?
Apparently, Phil has only been correct about 64 percent of the time, which is about as often as you’d correctly guess the outcome of a coin flip. Or, about as accurate as guessing the answers to a True/False quiz without looking at the questions.
Okay, so maybe groundhogs aren’t all that reliable when it comes to forecasting how long winter will last.
But are other animals better at predicting the weather?
In 2014, a group of scientists was studying the behavior of a bird species called golden-winged warblers when something happened that had never been seen before.
From the mountains in Tennesse where the scientists were studying them, these tiny birds suddenly disappeared.
They flew nearly 500 miles south to Florida to shelter from a storm system that swept through the Great Plains, decimating homes and leaving fatalities in its wake.
The golden-winged warblers avoided this weather system that caused damaging tornadoes across the southern states … And they knew about the storm as early as two days in advance.
The scientists were able to track their location using little bands attached to their legs that recorded their exact global position every few minutes. One bird traveled as far as Cuba to escape.
The average distance traveled by any single bird in this group to avoid the bad weather turned out to be around 900 miles!
But how did they know?
Scientists are still unclear as to what allows the birds to respond in advance to severe weather, though some theorize that birds can hear the infrasound produced by certain weather patterns.
Infrasound is low-frequency vibrations caused by weather patterns and other natural phenomena, like vibrations caused by earthquakes.
Perhaps by studying bird behavior and its relationship to the weather, we might one day be able to accurately predict certain severe weather storms.
It’s pretty wild to think about, but crickets can pretty accurately tell the temperature. Just count the number of chirps in 15 seconds and add 40, and you’ll get the temperature within a few degrees Fahrenheit.
Sure, it’s not exactly predicting the weather, but it’s still pretty cool!
In fact, a scientist named A.E. Dolbear observed cricket chirping and noticed a direct correlation between the height in temperature and the frequency of chirps.
Since then, many formulas have been devised to show the correlation between the temperature in Fahrenheit and the number of chirps a cricket makes.
The one flaw in this plan is that crickets only chirp when the temperature is between about 50 to 100 degrees. It can be a pretty good indicator on its own, though, assuming crickets are always chirping wherever you live.
Although you’re probably not going to see crickets, birds, groundhogs, or some other animal replace meteorologists on the weather channel, they still have fascinating ways to predict spring, measure the temperature, and sense a coming storm.
Scientists will continue to explore the possibilities and discover the fascinating secret life of animals that give us clues about our world and the things that live inside it.
Who knows? Maybe someday we’ll discover that certain animals possess certain sensitivities to the world that are even more accurate than our sophisticated electronic equipment and other technology.