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George Little: Anything goes in January

February 01, 2013 at 07:38 AM

The State Journal-Register

I don’t know one single person who longs for January in July, or anyone who wants it back when it’s gone. With average daily highs around 34 degrees, and lows around 18 above, January is typically our coldest month.

The one just past could have been worse, but it was still January. We pulled our hats down tight on our last January pheasant hunt, and it hit 60 degrees this past week.

While it seemed to be a month of extremes, this past January might have been more typical than odd. A January thaw, a week with temperatures above freezing day and night, is not uncommon.
Neither is the January polar express that tries to rip the buttons off your coat and steal what little warmth you have left.

The range of daily record highs and lows varies greatly. On any given day the record high may be in the 50s or 60s and the record low around 15 below zero. Illinois has had tornadoes and blizzards in January — in the same week. On Jan. 24, 1967, tornadoes hit in Henderson, Mason and Champaign counties. Three days later, 10 inches of snow fell across the northern half of Illinois while central Illinois got an ice storm. The coldest temperature ever recorded in Illinois is 36 below zero on Jan. 5, 1999. The warmest January day on record in Springfield is Jan. 23, 1909, when it was 73.

Warm or cold, it’s doubtful that a wild country Illinois groundhog will poke his head out of the den tomorrow to check his shadow. The one that lives in the brush pile behind my house has showed no sign of digging out yet. I don’t expect that guy to wake up for a couple more weeks.

Punxsutawney Phil, the country’s most famous non-human meteorologist, will be up early tomorrow. He has no say in the matter. Phil gets yanked out of his climate-controlled burrow to make his peerless prediction no matter what.

Weather-wise, most of us have more meteorological data at our fingertips than we can process. Our smart phones can tell us it’s raining and we don’t even have to go to the window. Still, we want to believe that a groundhog, with buckteeth, a brain the size of a pecan and no online search skills, can tell us if spring is just around the corner.

Mathematically, and scientifically, Feb. 2 is halfway between the winter solstice and the vernal equinox. On Groundhog Day, winter is half over. Shadow or not, the first day of spring is six weeks away.

Since the town fathers of Punxsutawney, Pa., started keeping records 120 years ago, generations of groundhogs named Phil have spotted their shadow 90 percent of the time. The six-more-weeks-of-winter prediction has come true 40 percent of the time.

A .400 batting average would get a National Weather Service meteorologist fired. But it’s not bad for a groundhog.

Contact George Little at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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