Monday, February 28, 2000

Faith Returns and How I'll Miss Maude Flanders

You gotta feel sorry for that old groundhog. He doesn't stick his head out of his hole often, but when he does all hell breaks loose. The one day of year he does his duty the pressure is severe. Everybody in the country is watching with a near religious like belief that if he sees his shadow, there will be six more weeks of winter.

And no matter what happens, the groundhog can't win. Winter's attributes stir quite potent emotions in many people. Some long for the warmth and renewal of spring. Others want to hang on to the snow and cold, to ski, to skate, to make snow angels, for just a little while longer.

I've heard from good sources that this fervent devotion to the meaning of his vision has led to the groundhog developing a rather substantial fear of his own shadow. Yet no matter the therapy he puts himself through, no matter the drugs prescribed, there is little he can do to avoid his shadow other than stay in the dark as often as he can.

Like other religions, what began as folklore has over time expanded into a science. People now make a living trying to predict the weather. Gladly the groundhog would abdicate his meteorological duties, but most people wouldn't allow that.

Weather in Minnesota is big news. If it isn't the snow and cold shutting us down it's the fog that causes the road salt to blow out transformers. Minnesotans crave forecasts. We need to know what the current dewpoint is. There are even a few who believe that if they know what to expect tomorrow, they will be prepared and better able to adapt to the inevitable.

Unfortunately, as long term forecasts prove as accurate as a leaky fountain pen, the whole sham of meteorology, which is about as blindly believed in as another pseudo-science, Astrology, is finally being exposed for what it really is. We are no better able to know tomorrow's temperature as we are to understand what causes the newcomer's brow to wrinkle so, causing a gushing reaction- as she says that you have made her day.

Our recent weather patterns are a cause of concern. While it's been nice having a relatively warm winter, is there something going on here? Global warming? Have we broken out of our orbit and are we now hurtling helplessly toward the sun?

Recently my favorite reporter/new colleague and her husband confirmed my worst fears. In the newspaper business weather is a scam. The reporter's husband, now a high powered attorney, reported that when he worked for a newspaper and was in charge of the weather section that there were days when the data and forecasts the newspaper received from the wire service was obviously old or wrong or both. So he would make things up. Missing the high temperature in Mazatlan? No problem, let's just say it was 84.

When I was a kid I gave some thought about going into meteorology. I thought it was so cool what with all the weather maps, radars and other gizmos. To have the ability to predict what is going to be and have people believe you is pretty powerful stuff. As a self imposed project, for a whole year I graphed out the temperature differences between Houston and Duluth. I'm not sure why I picked those two cities or what was to be gained by the information but I was positive that some big revelation was forthcoming. The project required so much discipline to continue that I wasn't at all disappointed when nothing was revealed. I was just glad I had a year's worth of work that I didn't need to continue.

Looking back it was the start of my days as a groundhog admirer. After one is stepped on the head one too many times one can never quite forget the significance of one's own shadow.

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