Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Land Beaver Day

Earlier today a man in a top hat and a black bowtie held aloft a large rodent of the species Marmota monax and declared that it would soon be warm. M. monax is a common species of rodent in North America. Every year on February 2nd the town of Punxsutawney PA gathers at dawn outside on a grass covered hillock called Gobbler's Knob to watch over-dressed men “handle” a large rodent they have named “Phil”. After playing with their furry friend for a bit they look up in the sky, and if it is cloudy they proclaim that there will be an early spring. Then they blame this prediction on Phil, and put him back in his pen.

My readers from other continents may not be familiar with our North American tradition of using rodents to predict climatic change. We call the February 2nd ritual “Groundhog Day” because one of the common names for M. monax is “groundhog”. Other common names are “Woodchuck” and “Land Beaver”. I think it should be called “Land Beaver Day”, but it is so hard to buck tradition.

Here in the rocky mountain area the closely related M. flaviventris is more common. The common name for it is “The Yellow Bellied Marmot”. We call it thusly because it has a distinctly yellow belly and is in the genus Marmota; pretty creative dontcha think? We also do not often dress in black tie formal wear to handle them as they do shed.

This morning it was 4 degrees outside (less than minus sixteen Celsius) which is rather cold. I like the idea that there will be an early spring. If Punxsutawney Phil had predicted six more weeks of winter (which is what he “predicts" if it is sunny on February 2nd) I would have chalked it up to the foolishness of even listening to what a rodent has to “say” about the weather. The best predictions are those I only need to listen to when they say what I want them to.

There is a popular saying in Utah: “If you don’t like the weather, just wait five minutes”.

I have waited several hours and it is a balmy seven degrees (less than minus fourteen Celsius) outside.

There is another popular saying in Utah: “Global warming is a lie”.

Many of the people who I have heard say this probably know more about lying than they do global climate change. I say this because the statement is rarely nested in facts. If they have a basement full of magic rodents they are keeping quiet about it.

One of the sources of information about global climate change that I find accessible and informative is Arctic Sea Ice News”. They have nice pictures and graphs, and it takes me about five minutes to get up-to-date on one of the most unbiased datastreams that tracks global warming. They do not have rodents and formal wear that I know of so they have room for improvement. I picture the publishers of ASIN wearing jeans and T-shirts.

Sea ice is low again this year.

In addition to poorly dressing the ASIN crew lacks the fundamental ignorability that Phil embodies. If I do not like the extent of sea ice ignoring it is counter-productive.

Unfortunately, this morning at least, any warming sounds like a great idea.

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