The groundhogs have had their say, with Nova Scotia’s famous Shubenacadie Sam predicting a prolonged winter and Wiarton Willy getting Ontarians’ hopes up by forecasting an early spring.
But while Canadians can’t be blamed for rooting for spring weather, they would also be well advised to prepare for wintry weather well into April or May, according to Global News meteorologist Ross Hull.
Wiarton Willy and Pennsylvania’s venerable Punxsutawney Phil may have both predicted an early spring, but Hull says there isn’t actually a specific definition of an “early spring” in the meteorology world.
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“There is no specific meteorological definition of what an early spring is, but as astronomical spring begins — this year the March equinox will be on March 20 — Canadians begin hoping that milder weather will make an appearance,” Hull said.
“Unfortunately, Arctic air doesn’t look at the calendar. So as many Canadians know, winter weather can last well into April even May across parts of the country.
“But there’s always that hope that real spring weather will come early which can happen under certain weather patterns.”
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While predicting the weather weeks in advance is tricky business, Hull says there are some patterns beginning to emerge for the transition from winter to spring in 2019.
“This year it looks like Eastern Canada as well as the Prairies will experience bouts of cold weather well into March,” Hull said, affirming Shubenacadie Sam’s forecast. “But parts of Western Canada — especially Southern B.C. — will likely start experiencing some spring warmth bragging rights earlier than the rest of the country.”
Folklore has it that if a groundhog sees its shadow on Groundhog Day, it will retreat into its burrow, heralding six more weeks of cold weather. But spring-like temperatures are thought to be on the way if no shadow is seen.
But human weather experts say the odd ritual has a terrible record when it comes to predicting the weather.
In his book, “The Day Niagara Falls Ran Dry,” climatologist David Phillips cites a survey of 40 years of weather data from 13 Canadian cities, which concluded there was an equal number of cloudy and sunny days on Feb. 2 – and during that time, the groundhogs’ predictions were right only 37 per cent of the time.
WATCH: Punxsutawney Phil predicts early spring
But Tabitha Cox, head nature interpreter at the wildlife park where Shubenacadie Sam lives, said that despite the hit-or-mostly-miss nature of these forecasts, it’s important to keep the tradition alive for Canadians who want to have some fun and blow off some mid-winter steam.
“I think it’s just because it’s something fun in the dead of winter,” she said. “(There’s) not much else going on, Christmas and New Year’s are well over, Easter’s still a long way away. It’s just a chance to have some fun.”
— With files from the Canadian Press