First came that fake news story in The Onion headlined, "Punxsutawney Phil Beheaded for Inaccurate Prediction On Annual Groundhog Slaughtering Day."
Then, three days later, Phil faced a formal indictment filed by a real Ohio county prosecutor who promised to seek the death penalty for the groundhog's faulty forecasting of an early spring. In the latest wrinkle in the case, on Tuesday, Butler County Prosecutor Mike Gmoser dropped the charges; Phil didn't do it. The groundhog's handler had copped to the crime.
Bill Deeley, president of the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club's Inner Circle, said Monday that he got it wrong when he announced to the world on Feb. 2 -- Groundhog Day -- that Phil was predicting an early spring. It was not done deliberately or with malice aforethought. According to court documents, he simply didn't correctly interpret Phil's "groundhog-ese." That made the world-famous furry felon "little more than a scapegoat,' Mr. Gmoser wrote in seeking dismissal of the case.
Of course, it was all in fun. After all, who really puts any stock in the prognosticating abilities of a celebrity marmota monax whose most vexing question beyond the weather game has historically been: "How much wood would a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood?"
And, truth be told, we don't usually much care if Phil's wrong -- particularly when he predicts more winter and we get less. But this last blast, which culminated in a weekend snowstorm crisscrossing the country, was just too much to take, and so Phil was fair game for those seeking respite. So were local TV forecasters who have clearly been getting an earful about this, shall we say, challenging spring.
The fact of the matter, however, is that instead of indicting the groundhog or accosting James, Eric or Terry, Theresa and, Anthony and Cassie over the forecasts, we should be begging for more of the same. There will be a payoff, the folks at the National Weather Service tell us, but patience and a bit of luck are required.
First, it's instructive to look at how we got here. Though many Quad-Citians have been lamenting the turnaround from 70- and 80-degree days of a year ago, the current weather pattern is hardy unusual; it's just different from last year.
Bill Nichols, meteorologist with the National Weather Service Quad Cities, says, as scientists learn more about weather, they discover that the earth goes through naturally occurring periods that affect the weather. (Note, we said "natural," so global warming theorists on both sides, please stand down.) Weather, he said, always has a natural variability that can range from weeks, to months to years, and even decades. Using a combination of factors which interact with one another to create such periods, the NWS is predicting a very cold March and, more importantly, a wet one. And that really IS good news.
After the punishing drought of last year, our region already can celebrate six months of at or above normal precipitation. That is good for the soil, but more is better.
Indeed, as Mr. Nichols said, "If this pattern continues for at least another six weeks, you can't ask for better conditions for plants by the end of May." That means healthier native plants, greener lawns and, dare we hope, more productive backyard gardens and better corn and soybean yields for farmers?
Indict Phil & Co.? We should thank them. As Kin Hubbard, Will Rogers' favorite humorist, said, "Don't knock the weather; nine-tenths of the people couldn't start a conversation if it didn't change once in a while." So dare we hope for more diversion regarding the great Groundhog Caper?
The Ohio prosecutor has much more pressing business to conduct. And so, the Associated Press reports, Mr. Gmoser says he has no intention of going after Buckeye Chuck, Ohio's version of Pennsylvania's Phil, who also got the forecast wrong -- hmmm, makes one wonder about that confession in Phil's case, doesn't it? Not Mr. Gmoser.
"I'm kind of done with animal cases," he told AP. "Maybe another prosecutor can go after the Easter Bunny."
Let's hope not. He's got enough to worry about with the weather.