Groundhog Day 2018

Punxsutawney Phil in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania on February 2, 2015.                            Credit: Anthony Quintano / CC BY 2.0 license / Flickr

Every February 2, thousands gather at Gobbler’s Knob in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, to see the spring forecast from a special groundhog. In 2018, Punxsutawney Phil saw his shadow. We have six more weeks of winter!

Groundhog Day History

During the Middle Ages, various Europeans thought that animals hibernating underground such as the hedgehog and badger came to the surface on February 2. According to the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club, the observance may have its roots in Candlemas Day, which is also on February 2. Candlemas marks the halfway point between the winter solstice in December and the spring (vernal) equinox in March.

Earth’s orbit. February 2 lies halfway between the winter solstice and the vernal (spring) equinox. Credit: Pakrus / CC BY 2.0 license / Flickr

In Germany, it was thought that if the hedgehog saw its shadow it became frightened and crawled back to sleep during six more weeks of bad weather above ground. But if skies were cloudy, the animal ventured out and stayed above ground. When Germans emigrated to America, they transferred their belief to the animal most closely resembling the badger — the groundhog.

Predicting the Arrival of Spring is Difficult

Since at least the 1970s, as the New York Times reported, the groundhog’s predictive skill has been called “dubious” by the Audubon Society, and by the late Eric Sloane as “a full‐fledged F”, when ranking groundhog predictions on a scale from T (True) to P (Possible) to F (False). The most recent years of an analysis by NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information (NCEI) shows no accuracy for the groundhog’s predictive skill. From 2007-2016, Punxsutawney Phil has been right 50% of the time:

Verification of Punxsutawney Phil’s prediction and the observed temperature departures from normal across the U.S. from 2007-2016 / Credit: NOAA/NCEI

Warmer Temperatures Typically Observed after Groundhog Day

While the groundhog doesn’t exhibit predictive skill on Groundhog Day, we do know that most locations in the U.S. show observed warming trends for the 6 weeks after Groundhog Day. Climate Central examined the trend in the temperature by determing the average temperature from February 2 through March 16 from the Applied Climate Information System at They found most locations across the U.S. showed an increasing temperature trend since 1950.

For example, in St. Johnsbury, Vermont, there has been an increasing average temperature trend from February 2 to March 16.

There is an increasing temperature trend since 1950 of the average temperatures from February 2 through March 16 in St. Johnsbury, Vermont / Credit: Climate Central

Earlier spring may sound nice at first, but it comes with an increased risk to agriculture. In Vermont, this is particularly applicable to maple syrup (Vermont has the highest percentage of tapped maple trees in the U.S.) As Climate Central notes, “maple syrup production is intimately tied to the weather. Sap only flows when temperatures rise above freezing during the day and drop below it during the night. That temperature difference creates enough pressure to push sap out of the tree — one of nature’s amazing feats.” Timothy Perkins, the director of the University of Vermont’s Proctor Maple Research Center, says, “in general over New York and New England, the [maple sugaring] season is now beginning about seven days earlier than it did 40-50 years ago and ending 10 days earlier.” 

Sap buckets on Corey Hill in Putney, VT / Credit: PutneypicsCC BY-NC 2.0 license / Flickr

Atmospheric Sciences at Vermont State Colleges Student Symposium

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Lyndon Atmospheric Sciences presented several projects as part of the Vermont State Colleges Student Symposium. This event was held at the Vermont Statehouse to improve awareness of experiential learning opportunities within the Vermont State Colleges. State representatives learned about Lyndon’s efforts to improve climate education and student research being conducted on wet snow storms and their impacts on electric utilities.

Dr. Ari Preston’s Ph.D. Research on Tropical Cyclones and Atmospheric Chemistry

Dr. Aaron (Ari) Preston, Visiting Assistant Professor of Atmospheric Sciences, recently defended his Ph.D. research on the transport of chemical species to the upper troposphere/lower stratosphere (UTLS) by tropical cyclones. Species such as carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxide, and ozone have been found to exert a greater influence on climate change at these high altitudes than if remaining near the surface. Typhoon Mireille (1991) was examined in the western North Pacific Ocean basin using in situ aircraft-derived chemical data from NASA’s Pacific Exploratory Mission-West A field project.

WRF domains, best track, and simulation tracks
The three nested domains (black outlines) used in the coupled WRF-Chem simulation. From outer to inner, the domains have a grid spacing of 27 km (d01), 9 km (d02), and 3 km (d03). Black dots show the best track of Typhoon Mireille, while red dots show the track of the simulation

The Weather Research and Forecasting (WRF) model was used with chemistry (WRF-Chem) at an innermost grid spacing of 3 km. This grid spacing explicitly resolved the convection being studied. Results show that pollution from distant sources were ingested by Mireille and subsequently lofted by eyewall convection to the UTLS, enhancing concentrations in this region. Flux calculations suggested that a strong tropical cyclone, such as Mireille, can impact UTLS chemistry as much as a continental middle latitude cyclone. Furthermore, overshooting cells in Mireille produced chemical flux density values at the tropopause level as much as 10-20 times greater than that of the tropical cyclone as a whole. Thus, although the overshooting tops comprised only a small area of the total tropical cyclone, they transport large quantities of gaseous species to the UTLS because of their very strong updrafts. Results also suggested that millions of cars would need to be hypothetically placed in the upper troposphere to have the same impact on chemical concentrations as Mireille. This demonstrated the transport strength of the tropical cyclone as a whole.

Profiles of vertical flux from the surface to 27.5 km of various species from the 3 km domain at 0000 UTC 27 September. Values are color-coded by tropical cyclone region, and upward (downward) fluxes are denoted by thick (thin) dashed lines. The gray horizontal line represents the approximate height of the tropopause level.

Improved understanding of atmospheric chemistry in the western North Pacific basin is important, especially in the context of increasing Asian emissions and a changing climate. Furthermore, since it has been hypothesized that global warming will lead to more intense storms, it is important to understand tropical cyclones’ role in chemical transport.

Students and Faculty at the AMS 2018 Annual Meeting

Lyndon Atmospheric Sciences was well represented at the 98th American Meteorological Society (AMS) Annual Meeting in Austin, Texas, January 7–11, 2018. Over 20 students attended, with several presenting their research. The student American Meteorological Society/National Weather Association chapter poster won second place and the club earned an honorable mention for the chapter of the year award. Students, faculty, alumni, and friends rekindled old connections and formed new ones at Tuesday’s alumni gathering.

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Research Showcased

This was an excellent opportunity for students and faculty to showcase their recent research projects.


Climate Change Communication Practice

Students in the Climate Change Communication group at Lyndon have many opportunities to practice communicating the science about climate change.

Most recently, on Wednesday, January 24, 2018, the Atmospheric Sciences department co-hosted an event, “2018 Acting on Climate Change in VT,” with the Vermont Natural Resources Council and Energy Independent Vermont. This event was held at the Kingdom Taproom in St. Johnsbury, VT.

Dr. Janel Hanrahan, Assistant Professor of Atmospheric Sciences at Lyndon, and two student members from Lyndon’s Climate Change Communication group, Jonathan Hutchinson and Francis Tarasiewicz, were three of several speakers at the event. This was an excellent opportunity for them to practice communicating about climate change science and to share their personal climate change stories.

Fall 2017 Climate Change Communication

Throughout the fall of 2017, Atmospheric Sciences and Climate Change Science students practiced informal communication skills in various settings.  They discussed climate change science with local middle and high school students at the Youth Environmental Summit and the Burke Community Fair, and presented fundamental climate change concepts at Springfield College. Some students took the initiative to visit their former high schools to stress the need for climate change action. In addition, the Climate Change Communication group hosted a campus-wide movie screening, attended a Vermont Climate Action Commission scoping meeting, and created new blog posts for

Winter Weather: The Weird, The Wacky And The Wonderful

Snow devil in Vermont. Courtesy: Putneypics

Our own Dr. Jay Shafer was a guest on Vermont Public Radio’s Vermont Edition on January 22, 2018, along with the Vermont State Climatologist Lesley-Ann Dupigny-Giroux. They answered listener questions about winter weather phenomena in Vermont, including:

Why does it get quieter when it snows?
Can there actually be thunder and lightning during a snow storm?
How can smog and flooding happen in the dead of winter?

Listen to the recording online at:

Geophysical and Human Interactions Student Presentations

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During final exam week, students presented semester projects that were completed as part of ATM 2210 Geophysical and Human Interactions. The presentations, which were open to the Lyndon community, highlighted accomplishments the students made over the past semester while tackling sustainability issues on campus. According to the course’s professor, Dr. Janel Hanrahan, “the class covers various issues related to climate change, including energy use, waste, food, and population. These are pressing issues that can seem overwhelming, but this project helped students learn that they can really make a difference!” The students addressed campus recycling, lighting issues, wastewater management, food packaging, and family planning. Some of their efforts are already visible on campus, such as condoms in the vending machines and signs encouraging the use of natural lighting. Over the next few months, more changes will be implemented, including reduced packaging in the Hornet’s Nest and new recycling signs. As the weather permits, additional vegetation will be planted along campus parking lots and polypropylene filters will be placed in storm drains.

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Students visit Cold Regions Research and Engineering Lab (CRREL)

Atmospheric Science juniors and seniors spent Tuesday at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Cold Regions Research and Engineering Laboratory (CRREL) in Hanover, NH. To reinforce concepts introduced in various core Atmospheric Science classes, the group of students watched presentations by CRREL scientists before touring various research areas in the Engineer Research and Development Center. They examined ice cores in the Cold Rooms and explored several other facilities including the Frost Effects Research Facility, the Ice Engineering Facility, and the Field Research Areas. They also learned about various career paths and had the opportunity to network with professionals in the field.

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Atmospheric Sciences students and faculty present at Youth Environmental Summit

Two Lyndon Atmospheric Sciences students, Sarah Sickles and Lauren Cornell, joined Dr. Hanrahan at the Vermont Youth Environmental Summit in Barre, VT.  The group gave a presentation called, “It’s Our Climate – Let’s Talk About It,” which was followed by an open discussion with middle and high school students.  The Lyndon group also hosted a table during an exhibition and scavenger hunt which allowed ATM students to practice the important skill of climate change communication.  They had the opportunity to visit with local youth who shared their concerns and wanted to learn more about climate change mitigation. Atmospheric science students at the 2017 Youth Environmental Summit

ATM Seminar: Research Requirements for America’s Space Program in Florida

When: Thursday, November 2, 2017, 12:30-1:15pm in ASAC 319
Speaker: Bill Roeder, meteorologist with the 45th Weather Squadron
Description: Space launch is surprisingly sensitive to weather.  Weather is
the leading source of scrubs and delays to space launches from Cape
Canaveral Air Force Station and NASA Kennedy Space Center.  Weather is even
more important to the preparatory ground processing done in weeks and months
before space launches.  Not only are space launches very sensitive to the
weather, but the weather itself has very subtle driving forces in Florida
leading to very unsubtle weather.  After all, Florida is famous as the
‘Thunderstorm Capital’ of the U.S. with most of the thunderstorms centered
in central Florida aka ‘Lightning Alley’.  The Air Force’s 45th Weather
Squadron provides comprehensive weather support to Cape Canaveral Air Force
Station and NASA Kennedy Space Center where a quarter of the world’s space
launches occur.  The 45th Weather Squadron uses a very dense network of
weather sensors to help deal with these weather support issues.  America’s
space program is undergoing a revolution as more and more businesses are
planning to access space.  Indeed, the launch schedule is projected to
nearly double in just a few years.  The 45th Weather Squadron is pursuing
research to provide ever improving excellence of service to our present
customers and to allow the increased rate of space launch.  This situation
is an outstanding confluence for operational research:  scientifically
intriguing questions, of significant operational importance, with
considerable weather data available, and liaison to facilitate the research.