Groundhog Day, Chinese
Astronomy, Halloween,
May Day, and other Curiosities

Every February 2nd in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, a groundhog named "Phil" is supposed to indicate whether Spring has arrived or if there will be six more weeks of Winter (i.e. until the Vernal Equinox).

In 2024 Phil did not see his shadow, meaning an early spring. To date, most of the winter seems to have been hitting the West and the Midwest, with heavy rain all along the West Coast. Some heavy rain and tornadoes on the Gulf Coast also. In the Northeast, two storms in January left modest amounts of snow, subsequently washed away by rain and above-freezing temperatures. California (and, for that matter, New York, Illinois, Michigan, etc.) still keeps getting the kind of government it deserves, since Californians keep voting for Democrats, whose program is crime, illegal aliens, and the destruction of business. Downtown San Francisco (as well as Portland and Seattle) is becoming a kind of ghosttown, and there are YouTube Video tours of empty storefronts around Market and Powell, where (the remaining) tourists can catch the cable cars. Sensible persons continue to flee California, with pleas echoing behind them not to tell others about how bad California is, lest the gaslighting that Governor Newsom peddles around the country be exposed -- more than it already is [note].

Groundhog Day is commemorated elsewhere, and there are other groundhogs besides Phil, each promoted by an interested locality; but Punxsutawney seems to get the most media attention and is immortalized in the excellent and imaginative movie Groundhog Day [1993], with Bill Murray and Andie MacDowell -- although the movie was actually shot in Illinois and not in the real Punxsutawney in Pennsylvania. The real Punxsutawney does have a town square with an old hotel standing on it, the "historic" Pantal Hotel; but Gobbler's Nob, where the Groundhog Day ceremonies are held, is really on a hill outside of town, not in the town square as shown in the movie. Phil normally lives in a "habitat" constructed by the Pittsburgh Zoo in the Punxsutawney Public Library, which does happen to be on one side of the town square.

Hollywood poetic license or not, Groundhog Day itself remains unexplained -- the local theory that it was carried by the Romans, by way of a Christian couplet ("If Candlemas Day is bright and clear -- There'll be two winters in the year"), to northern Europe, is no explanation at all. Here my concern is not in the folklore or history of Groundhog Day, but in the question why February 2nd might be thought to mark a possible beginning of Spring. This leads off into other curiosities.

The accompanying chart shows the astronomical events that mark the seasons as they are familiar in modern astronomy. The Equinoxes are days where day and night are the same length. The Solstices mark the days with the longest period of day or the longest period of night. Which is which depends on the hemisphere. In the Northern Hemisphere, the December Solstice marks the longest night; but in the Southern Hemisphere, it has the longest day. Similarly, the June Solstice is the longest day in the Northern Hemisphere but the longest night in the Southern. The seasons are likewise reversed: The December Solstice marks the beginning of Winter in the Northern Hemisphere, but the beginning of Summer in the Southern. The chart is written for the Northern Hemisphere because historically that was where calendars developed and where astronomical traditions began. Two dates are given for each Equinox and Solstice because they drift backwards until, every four years, a leap day is introduced to correct them. Thus, the Vernal Equinox usually falls on 20 March but drifts back to 21 March in the year before a Leap Year. It is then abruptly reset to 20 March after a leap day occurs on 29 February. The second date is the "ideal" one usually cited as "the" date, as with 21 March (used in Groundhog Day itself) for the Vernal Equinox.

One might ask, however, just why Spring was thought to begin right with the Vernal Equinox, Summer right with the Summer Solstice, etc. There are other ways to do it. The seasons of the ancient Egyptians had nothing to do with the Equinoxes and Solstices. The Egyptians had three seasons: the Flood (3kht), Winter (prt), and Summer (shmw). The Flood meant the flood of the Nile, which came to be correlated with the "heliacal rising" of the star Sirius, or the time in July when Sirius first becomes visible in the morning before sunrise. So if we use the Equinoxes and Solstices to mark the seasons, where did that begin? Whose seasons were they originally?

As it happens, they were the seasons of the Sumerians and Babylonians, later adopted by the Greeks, and then later adopted by the Romans, to be spread to everyone following in Roman cultural footsteps. A similar process occurred with the names of the planets: The bright planet Inanna of the Sumerians, named after the goddess of love and beauty, was simply translated as Ishtar into Babylonian, then as Aphroditê into Greek, and finally as Venus into Latin.

The Babylonian New Year was associated with the beginning of Spring. Since the Babylonian calendar used lunar months, which always began on the evening when the young Crescent moon could first be observed, the rule for the New Year was that it started with the first month after the Vernal Equinox, or the first New Moon to be thus observed. Both Judaism and Christianity contain elements of this rule: The Jewish month of Nîsân (which is clearly the name of the Babylonian month Nisannu, a name also used in Arabic for "April" in the Levant and Iraq), when Passover occurs, is supposed to contain the first Full Moon after the Vernal Equinox. Since the Jewish calendar has accumulated some error over the centuries, this is not always true, but that was the original idea. Similarly, in Christianity, Easter is supposed to fall on the first Sunday after the first Full Moon on or after the Vernal Equinox. There are many exceptions to this rule in Eastern Orthodox Churches that still use the Julian calendar; but the secular accumulation of error was corrected in the Gregorian calendar and its lunar tables, which most Christian Churches now use, so Easter in general is celebrated with some astronomical precision.

When the Babylonian seasons have become our seasons in the modern world, it is a little jarring to come across something like a footnote to Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream explaining that "Midsummer Night" (or "Eve") actually means 23 June, the night before "Midsummer Day," 24 June. But, one may object, 23/24 June is at the beginning of Summer, not in "mid" summer! What is going on here? Well, it looks like this represents some different way of reckoning the seasons. What way could there be? Well, one need go no further than Chinese astronomy to find just such a way that would put 23/24 June quite in "mid" summer.

In Chinese astronomy the Equinoxes and Solstices are all reckoned to occur in the middle, not at the beginning, of their respective seasons. This has the convenient and symmetrical effect of placing all the shortest days of the year in Winter and all of the longest days of the year in Summer. Spring and Autumn only contain days of rapidly changing length near the Equinoxes. Chinese Spring thus begins when the sun is midway between the Winter Solstice and the Vernal Equinox. That occurs on 3 or 4 February, depending on the year (as with the dates of the Equinoxes and Solstices themselves above). Since Chinese Summer thus begins on 5/6 May, 23 or 24 June, hard by the Solstice (20/21 June), is then definitely in "mid" summer.

As with the Babylonian New Year, the Chinese New Year, which occurred on 1 February in 2003, the day before Groundhog Day, is correlated to the beginning of Spring. The actual rule for the Chinese New Year, used since the Han Dynasty (specifically since the T'ai-ch'u Era of the Emperor Wu Ti in 104 BC), is that the New Year is the second New Moon after the Winter Solstice. Like the Babylonians, the Chinese used lunar months, though they came to regard the actual New Moon, rather than the first appearance of the young Crescent, as the beginning of the month. This rule seems very peculiar. "Second New Moon"? What's that supposed to be? Then one notices that this rule is virtually the equivalent of a rule that puts the New Year at the closest New Moon to the beginning of Spring on 3/4 February. Since a lunar (synodic) month is 29.5 days long, the second New Moon after the Winter Solstice is not going to occur before about 20 January, or later than about 19 February. That puts 3/4 February squarely in the middle of the range. So the Chinese associated the New Year with Spring just like the Babylonians, but they saw astronomical Spring differently from the Babylonians, and also went for the closest New Moon, which was calculated, instead of the first New Moon after, which could be observed.

This now brings us back to Groundhog Day: If Punxsutawney Phil does not see his shadow, as he did not in 1997 and 2007, and he reckons Spring to have arrived, he is simply using the Chinese seasons instead of the Babylonian. Were he to see his shadow and defer Spring six weeks (until 15/16 March), this puts it within range of the Babylonian reckoning. But what could the groundhog possibly know about Chinese astronomy? Well, we might ask the same about Shakespeare writing A Midsummer Night's Dream. Both Groundhog Day and Midsummer Day are old European traditions, brought to America mainly from England and Germany. Since the Babylonian seasons were brought to northern Europe by the Romans, it is tempting, and more, to think that both holidays reflect a pre-Roman astronomy that construed the seasons in the same way as Chinese astronomy. Since Chinese influence seems unlikely, and since we have some evidence of pre-Roman astronomy in Britain by the arrangement of stones at Stonehenge to observe events like the Solstices, it is not improbable that the requisite astronomical tradition was indigenous. There are suriving Celtic traditions (i.e. Irish and Gaelic) about the "cross-quarter" days, Samhain (pronounced /sawin/ or /saun/ in one of the curiosities of Irish spelling) in November, Imbolc in February, Beltane in May, and Lughnasadh in August. Similar ideas about the seasons may even have occurred elsewhere: There is speculation that some markings at the great Anasazi ruins in Chaco Canyon, New Mexico, may betray analogous interest in the mid-points between the Equinoxes and Solstices.

The existence of Groundhog Day and Midsummer Day thus are clues to the survival, as cultural fossils even after the adoption of Roman (Greek/Babylonian) astronomy, of an older European reckoning of the seasons, perhaps even from the Celtic tradition itself. Groundhog Day may bespeak the sort of perplexities that probably occurred in the midst of that assimilation: Come February, people weren't quite sure whether it was Springtime or not. So they may have figured it could be either, depending on the auspices. But there is more. There are two other peculiar occasions that correspond to a Chinese-like reckoning of the seasons. These have the distinctive characteristic that a sanctified day is preceded by a night in which the forces of evil are thought to be unusually active. The most famous and commonly observed is the combination of Halloween ("All Hallow Even") and All Saints' Day (Hallowmas, Samhain), 31 October and 1 November, respectively [note]. This is hard by the beginning of Chinese Winter on 6/7 November. Six months later, coincident with the beginning of Chinese Summer on 5/6 May, we find May Day on 1 May (Beltane) and Walpurgisnacht on 30 April.

James George Frazer in his classic, if rather dated, The Golden Bough [1890, 1900, 1906-1915], addressed the question of the origin of All Souls and All Saints Days:

In order to answer this question we should observe, first, that celebrations of this sort are often held at the beginning of a New Year, and, second, that the peoples of North-Western Europe, the Celts and the Teutons, appear to have dated the beginning of their year from the beginning of winter, the Celts reckoning it from the first of November, and the Teutons from the first of October... These considerations suggest that the festival of All Souls on the second of November originated with the Celts and spread from them to the rest of the European peoples... [The Golden Bough, A New Abridgement from the Second and Third Editions, edited by Robert Fraser, Oxford University Press, 1994, p. 384]

Although much of Frazer's theoretical approach is now objectionable, there still seems little objection to this conclusion. Similarly, May Day is clearly a very ancient, pre-Christian, and pre-Roman holiday. The unique and obscure ritual of dancing around the Maypole and wrapping it with streamers is an extraordinary testament to meanings that are now lost -- with a ritual now sadly rarely practiced. Although, unlike 1 November, May Day was largely uncompromised by Christianity, it later achieved a form of secular sanctification and sad politicization when it was adopted in 1887 by the socialist parties of Europe to be the International Labor Day. Labor Day in most countries is still 1 May. In the United States, where this was rejected for its association with socialism, May Day has consequently become all but unobserved, except by Communists and other serious Leftists.

What Frazer could not understand was why November should be taken as the beginning of Winter or May the beginning of Summer. Commenting on two great Celtic occasions (Beltane and Samhain), he says:

They were two in number, and fell at an interval of six months, one being celebrated on the eve of May Day and the other on Allhallow Even or Hallowe'en, as it is now commonly called, that is, on the thirty-first of October, the day preceding All Saints' or Allhallows' Day. These dates coincide with none of the four great hinges on which the solar year revolves, to wit, the solstices and the equinoxes. Nor do they agree wtih the principal seasons of the agricultural year, the sowing in spring and the reaping in autumn. [p.731]

All he can come up with is that they may relate to the practices of husbandry (p.731), to drive out or bring in the herds from pastures. For all his vast research and learning, Frazer evidently never came across the "great hinges" of the solar year as analyzed by Chinese astronomy. Nor did he question the conventional, Babylonian boundaries of the seasons, even though he uses the paradoxical terms "Midsummer Eve" and "Midsummer Day" countless times -- it never struck him that these terms were apparently applied in the "wrong" part of summer.

St. Boniface of Crediton chopping down the "blood oak" of Thor at Geismar, Thuringia, in 720, where the pagan chief Gundhar was about to sacrifice his child, Asulf. Thor didn't stop him, and the tree fell, so the Thuringians converted.
The night before May Day came to be associated in Germany with St. Walburga (died c.779), an English nun who joined the mission (begun in 718) of
St. Boniface of Crediton (c.675-754/5) to convert the remaining German pagans to Christianity. She died at Heidenheim, but her remains were supposed to have been transferred to Eichstätt on 1 May. That is sometimes said to be her feast day, but her actual feast day is 25 February. The night before the occasion of the transfer, 30 April, came to be known as Walburga's Night, or Walpurgisnacht in German. This, curiously, came to be regarded, like Halloween, as a time of evil. One is left to wonder if this association followed or preceded the connection with Walburga, or if there were ever any evil overtones to 30 April outside Germany. It is also unclear whether the overtones of evil arose from something about Walburga or her body itself or because, as on Halloween, evil is thought to decamp under the influence of the particular holiness of the following day -- or, as with many New Year celebrations, because of the idea that the world is coming apart, reverting to Chaos, until reconstituted by the New Year's rites. The transport of Walburga's body might evoke either idea since a dead body can seem a thing of horror and evil, while a Saint's body, or even a part of it as a relic, was traditionally seen as a miraculous and beatific object.

The specifically German connection of Walpurgisnacht is now magnified by a particularly horrific historical association: 30 April marks the day when Adolf Hitler committed suicide -- an event vividly recreated in the 2004 movie Downfall (Der Untergang). This might not have been entirely coincidental. Josef Stalin was probably planning on Russian troops taking Berlin on May Day, his own sanctified day, so Hitler may have chosen what seemed like the last convenient moment to escape capture. (As it happened, the Soviets didn't have complete control of the city until May 2nd, at the cost of 400,000 to 500,000+ Russian soldiers, in fact one of the bloodiest battles in all of World War II.) But now the thought of Hitler's spirit released into the darkness, or consigned to Hell, the joy of his enemies to be rid of him, or the sorrow of his sympathizers to have lost him, are all firmly dated to Walpurgisnacht itself. This is sometimes confused with Hitler's birthday, which was actually 20 April (the day on which Downfall begins) -- now with its own horrible association, the massacre and suicide on April 20, 1999, by two nihilistic, Hitler-loving high school students, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, at Columbine High in Littleton, Colorado.

Whether we are justified in connecting the (morally) complex occasions of Halloween and May Day with the ancient astronomy that Groundhog Day and Midsummer Day seem to reveal is open to question. They are certainly off axis, as it were, for the familiar astronomical benchmarks of the Babylonian, Greek, and Roman system, neither close to a Solstice nor close to an Equinox -- in contrast, for instance, to the Jewish New Year, Rôsh Hashshânnâh, which shadows the Autumnal Equinox as Passover follows the Vernal Equinox. While I have no special knowledge of Celtic or Germanic religion and folklore, and while there seem to be a lot of popular stories about such religions that themselves appear to be New Age folklore, there does seem to be enough good information to motivate these conclusions.

When I find it snowing over Thanksgiving, I often wonder if Winter is really not going to begin until a month later. At the same time, Chinese Spring, on February 3rd or 4th, seems rather early for Spring -- and August doesn't really feel like Autumn at all, except that the days are getting shorter. As it happens, there is a kind of official compromise between the Babylonian and Chinese reckoning of the Seasons. The "Meteorological Seasons" make for more of a fit with the weather we often observe. In these terms, all of March belongs to Spring, all of September to Autumn, all of December to Winter, and all of March to Spring. Something of the sort is already embodied in the traditional sense that Summer extends from Memorial Day (previously May 30, now the last Monday in May) to Labor Day (the first Monday in September). This period will thus always include the months of June, July, and August. It used to be the fashion that women only wore white shoes (etc.) in this season.

Although the inception of the months is entirely arbitrary, there is a physical reality behind the "Meteorological" divisions. From the appearance or disappearance of the Sun in the North, there is a lag while warm or cold air builds up. By November, it is certainly dark enough in the Arctic for freezing temperatures; but there is then a delay before the air begins spilling south. So we should expect that genuinely meteorological seasons would be asymmetrical around the equinoxes and solstices. This still puts Thanksgiving in the Autumn, unless, of course, we use the previous Chinese Solar Term, or Zodiacal Sign, instead of the very artibrary beginning of the month on the Gregorian Calendar. Perhaps we could ask Punxsutawney Phil to chose, year by year.

History of Philosophy, Chinese Philosophy

History of Philosophy

Philosophy of Science, Calendars

Philosophy of Science

Philosophy of Religion

Philosophy of History

Home Page

Copyright (c) 1997, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020, 2021, 2022, 2023, 2024 Kelley L. Ross, Ph.D. All Rights Reserved

Groundhog Day, Chinese Astronomy, Halloween, May
Day, and other Curiosities, Note 1

In 2023 Phil saw his shadow, meaning six more weeks of winter. To date, most of the winter seemed to have been hitting the West and the Midwest. Although a severe cold snap was about to hit the Northeast, as had happened back in December, California and the Southwest, which had been experiencing drought for years, suddenly had floods and many feet of snow in the mountains. It was a little hard to get information on what this does about the drought. One might even think that the Powers that Be had enjoyed the drought. In California, in particular, they have done nothing for years about improving the water system. With drought, they could scold Californians about their ecological crimes -- something that self-hating "liberals" eat up. Meanwhile, California is crippling its own energy infrastructure, with the ironic development that, just as the State announced that gasoline powered cars would be banned, the State advised consumers that the electrical grid would not support recharging electric cars -- who themselves are an ecological disaster in their own right (built on the bodies of children mining toxic metals at Chinese mines in the Congo). This was not surprising. Californians are still getting the kind of government they deserve, since they keep voting for Democrats. As the state is being destroyed by its political culture, those who voted for something better are the ones leaving in droves. Unfortunately, many Californians who have fled to Nevada or Arizona seem to keep voting for Democrats, setting those States on the path to their own destruction.

In 2022 Phil saw his shadow. With this prediction of more winter, as that happened, a winter storm was already sweeping across the Midwest, headed for the Northeast. A proper Nor'easter had already come up the coast the previous weekend, dumping heavy snow, particularly in New England. The February storm, however, was inland, with a promise of snow for Upstate New York, which had gotten little from the Nor'easter. The snow that had fallen on New Jersey and New York City was likely to be followed by rain. There had not been a lot of weather in the Northeast in the Fall, with storms seeming to concentrate on the West Coast, where California and the surrounding States had been experiencing droughts and fires. All that, of course, was blamed on "climate change," rather than on poor forest management -- money was spent on unreliable "renewables" (wind and solar) rather than on brush clearance. California wants to eliminate fossil fuels, even as blackouts continue, leaving citizens in the dark and unable to recharge the electric cars, or use the electric stoves, that the State favors. Since voters failed to recall Governor Newsom when they had the chance, sitting in the dark is perhaps the reward for their votes -- disregarding all the other ways that California is being destroyed by its political culture. It may be a sad bit of proof that people do actually get the kind of government they deserve. Those who voted for something better are likely the ones leaving the State in droves.

In 2021 Phil saw his shadow, making a prediction of six more weeks of Winter. On February 1st, there had just been a big Winter storm in the Northeast, a real "Nor'easter" (i.e. with the wind out of the Northeast, from an offshore Low), which the Weather Channel called "Orlena," that dumped heavy snow from Virginia to New England. Also, the ordinary crowds and drinking in Punxutawney didn't happen, because of the Wuhan Corona Virus restrictions on large groups of people. There had been a good storm in December, but not much in January. Meanwhile, there was Winter weather in the Midwest and in California, where there had been a lot of widespread wildfires. While previous wildfires often were blamed on aging electrical equipment (and Global Warming), the new wildfires were mostly blamed on Global Warming, instead of poor forest management. Somehow private forest lands burned less than the public ones. On private lands controlled burns and undergrowth clearance prevented destructive fires. Meanwhile, Pacific Gas and Electric, by devoting resources to "renewable energy," rather than maintaining its generating capacity, had to resort to blackouts, often for days, because things like night and calm limited power from solar cells and wind turbines -- things that deface the landscape, kill wildlife, and generate masses of toxic waste when they wear out. Since people in California consequently couldn't charge their cellphones or the electric cars that the State wants them to buy, this seemed like part of the collapse of civilization in California, where the homeless spread disease and crime in San Francisco, Los Angeles, and elsewhere. People and businesses, including Elon Musk (who makes those electric cars), have been fleeing the State, while those left behind keep voting the Democrats into power, so they can do more of the same. And those who move to Nevada and Arizona seem to want to vote the Democrats into power there, so that those States can become like California. Go figure. Global Warming alarmists have had a good year. Stalinist command economics will now be introduced by the new Biden Administration in Washington, and people all over the country can count the days before they get to sit in the dark and cold like people in California

In 2020 Phil again did not see his shadow, making another prediction of an early Spring. It was actually snowing at the time, although that is the kind of day when you don't see your shadow. In the Northeast, January was very mild, following just a couple of light snowfalls in the Fall, although these were heavier, of course, inland. But January melted it all off. Meanwhile, it was much more like Winter in the Midwest, and California has been getting rain and a good snowpack in the Sierra -- after a Summer of widespread wildfires. Since previous wildfires often were blamed on aging electrical equipment, Pacific Gas and Electric, in bankruptcy, tried using blackouts, often for days, to try and prevent fires. Since people consequently couldn't even charge their cellphones, this seemed like part of the collapse of civilization in California, where the homeless spread Mediaeval typhus in Los Angeles -- although predictions of bubonic plague didn't come true this time. Heavy snow had fallen some places. Newfoundland had to dig out from under 30 feet of it. Overall, however, the Global Warming alarmists were heartened, with visions of Stalinist command economics dancing in their eyes, and Bernie Sanders ready to give it to them. At the same time, Groundhog Day fell on the Sunday of Super Bowl LIV, so the drinking, which started at 3 AM in Punxsutawney, had an excuse to continue right through the day. The Superbowl commercials included the very interesting treatment of The Four Loves.

In 2019 Phil did not see his shadow, making what is actually an unusual prediction of an early Spring. This came off an extreme cold spell, with overnight temperatures close to zero in the New York area, and much, much lower in the Midwest. But, while California got rain and a good snowpack in the Sierra, and the Midwest got cold and snow, the weather in the Northeast was relatively mild, with just a couple of minimal snowfalls, quickly melting off during the day. Further north, in Upstate New York and New England, there was heavier snow, but not like the Midwest. It remained to be seen if Phil gets it right this year. Looks like he did.

In 2018 Phil saw his shadow, with a prediction of six more weeks of Winter. It had been a curious year until then. The Fall was warm, but then after Christmas New York City experienced 14 days in which the temperature did not get above freezing. This was the third longest stretch ever, after 16 days in 1961 and 15 days in 1881. This beat out the old number three, now number four, of 13 days in 1893. This distribution of these streaks is of interest. The cold streak included a few moderate snowfalls. It had also snowed some before Christmas, which meant a white Hanukkah but not a white Christmas. Since then, there have been some warm and rainy spells, and the accumulated snow melted.

The strangeness of the year continued. While February in New York and New Jersey was quite warm, with rain but no snow, setting records -- and the reputation of Punxsy Phil on the line -- March came in like the proverbial lion. No less than four Nor'easter storms hit the Northeast in March. One is not exactly common, but four is extraordinary.

In these storms, the center of circulation is off the coast, so that the wind comes around from the Northeast on the Western side of the Low, resulting in a large amount of moisture making landfall from the ocean. If cold air lies over the land, this can result in a lot of snow.

The Weather Channel named these storms Riley, arriving March 2nd, Quinn, arriving March 7th, Skylar, arriving March 13th, and finally Toby, arriving March 21st, after the Vernal Equinox on the 20th. Riley and Quinn are out of alphabetical order because Quinn was named first, in the West, and took longer than Riley to arrive.

Riley was very windy but left only moderate amounts of snow. Quinn and Toby were big snowmakers. Quinn dropped so much heavy wet snow that branches and trees were brought down over a wide area, resulting in extensive power outages. At times, Toby looked about as bad, but the snow was a little drier and did not have quite the same effects. The earlier storms hit Boston and New England heavily, at times with the wind and whiteout of blizzards; but Toby, holding more southerly, seems to have been easier there.

The photos are the morning after Toby, on the 22nd. Although the snow loads look similar to Quinn -- with St. Francis, at left, heavily laden -- they melted much more rapidly; and drifts that held for days after Quinn were gone in a couple days after Toby. Spring soon seemed in the air, and Punxsy Phil can stand triumphant.

California at first was back to drought conditions, with brush fires feeding off the heavy growth from the previous winter. Rain then set off mudslides, including one in Santa Barbara that resulted in a number of deaths. Chinese Spring began February 3rd, while the Chinese New Year -- the closest New Moon to the beginning of Spring -- fell on February 16th. It seemed like Spring at the time, but that would not hold.

In 2017 Phil saw his shadow, with a prediction of six more weeks of Winter. It was a curious year until then. January was warm in the Northeast, but California has received heavy rain and snow, breaking what remained of the drought in much of the State, although not all. There was only one substantial snowfall in the Northeast for the rest of winter. Punxsutawney reported the largest crowds ever for the event, and Groundhog Day was set to become a Broadway play. Meanwhile, Chinese Spring began February 3rd, even as the Chinese New Year -- the closest New Moon to the beginning of Spring -- was the previous Saturday, January 28th.

In 2016, on a clear, cold, and bright morning in Punxsutawney, Phil was unable to see his shadow, announcing the arrival of Spring. This looked like the good bet that year, since, with an El Niño event, it was an unusually warm Autumn across much of the United States; and, since Phil predicted more Winter in 2015, and it actually snowed on the first day of Spring in Princeton, NJ (as we see in the photo at right, the next day), perhaps he was feeling confident in general. Nevertheless, it was snowing in the Midwest (from winter storm "Kayla," hitting Iowa the day after the Iowa caucuses); and California, mercifully, had been getting more rain and snow than in the recent drought. But Global Warming advocates were feeling triumphant; and, as has become the custom, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and some other agencies released reports that 2015 had been the warmest year on record, like every one of the recent previous years. Since this involves rejecting satellite data in favor of other, more questionable sources, with some accusations of altered data, there remains plenty of grist for climate skeptics (cf. "The Climate Snow Job," Patrick J. Michaels, The Wall Street Journal, January 25, 2016, A13). Meanwhile, the mainstream "consensus" establishment doesn't seem to realize that demonizing skeptics as "deniers," and even getting politicians to threaten prosecution against them, only discredits the establishment, since skepticism simply means doing science with required integrity

In 2015, not only was Groundhog Day the day after Super Bowl XLIX, removing it from that spotlight, but the weather itself, with the storm called "Linus" by the Weather Channel dropping snow, rain, and ice across the Northeast, including Punxsutawney, distracted attention from the festivities there. Despite the clouds and mess, Phil still managed to see his shadow, predicting six more weeks of Winter. Nevertheless, the Global Warming advocates were ready, after NASA and some other agencies released reports that 2014 had been the warmest year on record. It had been hot in some places, but residents of the US Northeast must have been scratching their heads. 2014 was a year without summer in New York City, and now record snowfalls have been experienced in places like Boston and Detroit. Some commentators find the whole business suspicious. As it happened, Phil was right for 2015, and it even snowed on the first day of Spring.

In 2014, Phil saw seen his shadow (despite clouds and snow -- perhaps it was the television lights), which meant six more week of Winter. So far the Winter in the Midwest, East, and even South had been unusually cold and snowy. Atlanta got 2.6 inches of snow in one day, paralyzing the city and catching the Weather Channel off guard -- they had sent Jim Cantore to Charleston, where nothing much happened. A thaw in the Northeast meant no white Christmas in New York, except for a dusting, but there were significant snowfalls before and after. Another thaw cycle made for a warmer Super Bowl, which was incautiously scheduled for the open stadium at the Meadowlands (i.e. the swamps) in New Jersey. As the jet stream moved north in the East, it moved south in the West, finally providing some rain and snow in California, which was again in one of its periodic droughts.

The 2014 coincidence of Groundhog Day with Super Bowl XLVIII seemed to magnify interest; and Phil went with the flow that a strong Winter so far would continue through February. The weather then had Global Warming advocates scrambling for explanations of why the cold wasn't really what it looked like, although they still have some difficulty with the circumstance that global temperatues have not increased now for something like 17 years. They have taken the approach that warming is taking place in the oceans rather than the atmosphere. Meanwhile, an Antarctic expedition to examine global warming became trapped in the ice on 24 December 2013, earning the sobriquet "ship of fools." Participants had to be rescued by helicopter.

In 2013, Phil did not see his shadow, which meant an early Spring. Until then, the Winter had been a mixed bag. Chicago went without snow or sub-freezing highs for record lengths of time. But then many places got a White Christmas. After some considerable snowfall there was then a January thaw. Punxsutawney itself on February 2nd was cold with light snow. Of course, that means it was cloudy, which actually would lead to Phil not seeing his shadow. The speculation was that since last year turned out to be very warm, very early, Phil decided to go with the flow and bet the percentages of warmth again. After some unusual freezes, Los Angeles was in the 70's that week, while New York was cold.

Going with the flow did not seem work out for Phil. After Groundhog Day there were a series of major snowstorms in the Midwest and East. On 9 February, the storm called "Nemo" by The Weather Channel dropped 24.9 inches of snow at Logan Airport in Boston, the 5th largest snow event in more than 100 years. There was still snow falling some places on St. Patrick's Day, less than a week before the Vernal Equinox, although it was warm in the South. Meanwhile, Moscow had the heaviest snowfall in a century.

In 2012, Phil saw his shadow, which meant six more weeks of winter. At that point, however, the Winter, despite a bizarre October blizzard that paralyzed several Northeastern States, had been unusually warm in the Midwest, Northeast, and South. It was enough to give heart to the Global Warming people, after the cold Winter a year ago -- and especially when the Summer of 2012 turned out to be unusually warm across much of the Nation. But some odd things had been happening. Towns in Alaska were buried in snow. Nome was iced in, to the point that the town was in danger of running out of fuel, until a tanker was escorted in by Coast Guard icebreakers. Unusually heavy snowfalls hit Washington State and even the city of Seattle. Other unusual snow fell as far south as the Texas Panhandle and southern New Mexico. As of February 2nd, extreme cold and snowfalls affected Eastern Europe, resulting in the deaths of perhaps 100 people. Thus, while was 70 degrees outdoors on February 2nd in Los Angeles, there did seem to be a great deal of cold air around. We were told later, however, that Global Warming was going to produce greater snowfall.

In 2011, Phil did not seen his shadow, which meant an early Spring. However, as Phil was making his appearance, a historic bizzard was draped across the country from Texas to Massachusetts, with heavy snow from Oklahoma past Chicago. It had already been a fierce Winter across the Midwest and East, and would continue to be one. Where I spent the Holidays in New Jersey, there were four snowfalls in four weeks, including a post-Christmas storm that paralyzed New York City. Unusual ice and snow also afflicted Atlanta. In the San Fernando Valley, my own Davis Instruments weather station recorded 8.49 inches for December but only 1.04 inches for January. That brought the year, since July 1, 2010, up to 12.30 inches, about where it was at that point in 2010. Subsequent rain brought the total for the year up to 23.62 inches, with 3.63 inches for February and 7.09 inches for March.

In 2010, Phil saw his shadow, which meant six more weeks of winter. So far it had been a winter of serious cold and snow across much of the United States. Within the previous week, there was cold and heavy snow and ice in a band from New Mexico through Oklahoma and all the way to North Carolina. The Northeast had a heavy snowfall right before Christmas, which was still on the ground when I drove into New Jersey on December 22nd. California, mercifully, got some rain, but there had not been enough yet to really break the drought. My weather station had recorded 6.78 inches for January and 12.06 inches since July 1, 2009. This was within striking distance of, at least, normal rainfall. As it happened, I ended up with 20.26 inches for the year, well above normal.

In 2009, Phil saw his shadow also. It had been a curious winter that year, like 2008, with some very cold temperatures and some very warm periods also. There had been heavy snow in the Midwest and the Northeast, with record cold temperatures. California, continuing in drought and warmth, had a number of rain storms in January, but they dropped relatively little rain. My own weather station, again, recorded only 0.46 inches for January and 2.19 inches for the season. We ended up getting only 9.94 inches for the 2008-2009 year.

Return to Text

Groundhog Day, Chinese Astronomy, Halloween, May
Day, and other Curiosities, Note 2;
Devil's Night and Detroit

Halloween and All Saints' Day have, after a fashion, spilled over onto adjactent days. "All Souls' Day" is 2 November, a day for the commemoration of the dead, like Qing Ming in Chinese religion. This has been elaborated into the "Day of the Dead," Día de los Muertos, in Mexico, with visits to cemeteries, as in Qing Ming, and a vast variety of distinctive art, as at right, which seems to owe something to the Aztecs.

Similarly, even as Halloween itself has softened into a children's holiday, the day before Halloween, 30 October, has taken on some of its older, more sinister characteristics. Thus, the often malicious and destructive pranks that used to be characteristic of Halloween have tended to migrate to the night before. Early on this became "Gate Night" in rural areas, where a favorite bit of vandalism was to remove gates and allow livestock to scatter. Migrating to cities, the night became "Mischief Night" or even "Hell Night," and the vandalism grew into real destruction of public and private property, including arson. This was enough of a problem in the 1920's and '30's that it led to the original efforts to tame Halloween itself into the children's holiday. Although this largely succeeded, the night of 30 October lived on in terror in some places. Thus, here and there it became "Devil's Night," with a particular focus on widespread arson.

Nowhere was this more famous than in Detroit. Decades of government by the Democrats have destroyed the local economy, led to the flight of much of the population (250,000 in the last decade), has now (May 2011) produced a 47% illiteracy rate, with 17% unemployment (as of April 2012), left large areas of the city abandoned, and created the perfect conditions -- of nihilism, crime, and neglect -- that all but invited widespread arson fires. Nobody cared about all those empty buildings anyway. The 4 December 2012 Wall Street Journal noted that in the city, "two-thirds of its street lights are broken" ["Motown's Mental Breakdown," A16].

The Detroit "Devil's Night" ritual was commemorated in a 1994 movie, The Crow, during the filming of which Brandon Lee, Bruce's Lee's son, was killed in a freak accident. In the story, and as explained in the director's commentary by Alex Proyas (also the director of I Robot), we learn that all the abandoned buildings are part of some plot by landlords or developers to make money -- or at least to collect the insurance after local gangsters burn them down (we don't see any development, as in fact there has not been, and most of the buildings in the movie have not been burned down).

Now, arson fires are sometimes set in order for the property owners to collect money from the fire insurance, but this only works if the buildings are worth something to be insured (or are accidentally or fraudulently overinsured). But the abandoned buildings in Detroit are actually worth nothing. They are abandoned precisely because they have lost all economic value, in a place where economic activity has all but disappeared.

Of the 137 square mile area of the City of Detroit, 60 square miles are now uninhabited. The population of the City, 1,849,568 in 1950, had fallen to an estimated 910,920 by 2009. To everyone's dismay, the 2010 census reported that Detroit's population was actually only 713,777 -- the smallest the city has been since the 1910 census. Detroit has the highest poverty rate, at 33%, of any city with a population over 250,000 in the country. Ironically, when there were terrible riots in Detroit in the '60's, the city was in much better shape:

...the most lethal riot of that era occurred in Detriot, where the poverty rate among blacks was only half that of blacks nationwide, while the homeownership rate among blacks was higher than among blacks in any other city, and the black unemployment rate in Detriot was 3.4 percent, which was lower than the unemployment rate among whites nationwide. [Thomas Sowell, Intellectuals and Society, Basic Books, 2011, p.286, boldface added]

It was a bad sign to have so much evident dissatisfaction, when there was so little of substance to complain about. Don't worry. They fixed that. Today, the city government of Detroit, still in the hands of clueless Democrats, having driven much of the population and most of the business out of their city, can think of nothing better to do about all this than raise taxes again. Detroit is not the only city in Michigan to experience such demographic and economic collapse. Some Michigan politicians have proposed that abandoned areas be returned to nature, which presumably would entail removing infrastructure like streets, sewers, and power lines.

Thus, Alex Proyas, facing a situation that exemplifies the failure, despair, and anarchy of socialist politics, choose to see it all through a Leftist prism as an indictment of capitalism -- the standard and characteristic sophistry in the apologetic for the failures of socialism. Unfortunately, arson fires have also been common, and for similar reasons, in the darling of Euro-Socialism, France, and were especially conspicuous in the 2005 riots there. Stands of abandoned buildings in New York City (in Harlem, the South Bronx, and Bedford-Stuyvesant), long providing a backdrop for politicians pontificating about the difference their programs were going to make, now tend to be demolished; but I don't think there have been suggestions to return the areas to nature. Meanwhile, nobody needs to return anything to nature in Texas.

A similar sort of Bizarro World mindset was evident in Michael Moore, attending anti-Capitalist demonstrations in New York City in September 2011 (gee, that's something new for that part of the country). Moore said that he hated Capitalism because it had destroyed his home town:  Flint, Michigan. The reporter interviewing him did not point out that, after all, Capitalism had built Flint in the first place, while it was Democrat domination of Michigan politics for years that has managed to destroy it, just like Detroit. I expect that Moore's mind is impervious to either facts or irony.

Devil's Night consequently now encompasses a brace of evil associations:  the untimely death of Brandon Lee, the nihilism and despair of sociopathic arsonists, and the socialistic politics that create the conditions for their existence. Eventually, of course, the buildings are all burned and even the criminals must move on to places where wealth is still created and preserved (i.e. Houston). This really means, of course, that Devil's Night, not May Day, is the proper occasion of international Communist celebration.

Return to Text