WRAL WeatherCenter Blog

Sir Walter Wally's record no better than a coin flip

Posted February 2
Updated February 3

Sir Walter Wally predicted 6 more weeks of winter as he saw his shadow Sunday morning at the Groundhog Day celebration outside the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences. Groundhog Day is rooted in a German superstition that says if a hibernating animal casts a shadow on the Feb. 2 Christian holiday of Candlemas, winter will last another six weeks. If no shadow was seen, the legend calls for an early spring.

Groundhog Day’s roots lie not just in the Christian holiday of Candelmas but before that in a pagan festival. That festival celebrates the first cross-quarter day, the midpoint between an equinox and solstice. Both celebrate first signs of spring at this time. It’s also when you are supposed get a start on spring cleaning, the fireplace in particular. The other cross-quarter day with Pagan roots that we have a lot of fun with today: Halloween.

Greg Fishel and the rest of the WRAL meteorologists often explain how little validity long range forecasts have. Even those backed up by numerous models generated by Cirrus and Stratus , NOAA’s twin supercomputers are questionable. How accurate can a rodent sourced forecasts be?

The State Climate Office of North Carolina took a look at animal and weather folklore recently across the state. Since it’s not clear what kind of resolution we should expect from woodchuck based prediction systems, we'll assume predictions are Wally… er. Raleigh specific.

Last year, the furry forecaster predicted 6 more weeks of wintry weather. In that 6 week period, Raleigh was down 3.42°F despite a slightly warmer second week. Not bad for a whistle pig. However in 2012 he called also called for more winter, but Raleigh was up 3.08ºF for that period.

Since 2000, Sir Walter Wally has called for more winter 12 times and an early spring twice and has a 50/50 success record on both calls.

Even when I tried to give some credit for how much warmer or colder it was doing those 6 weeks, the numbers still look like a coin flip. Walter was off by an average of -0.03ºF according to the climate office’s numbers for how much Raleigh deviated from temperature averages over that 6 week period.

Before we rename him Sir Walter Coinflip, consider his slightly more famous cousin, Punxsutawney Phil, who has making predictions since 1887. Phil has only 39% record. Sir Walter’s record was good enough to earn him place on The Weather Channel’s “Top 11 Groundhogs to Watch.”

17 Comments

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  • raleighboy524 Feb 7, 2:21 p.m.

    So why does WRAL and media in general pay any attention?

  • mep Feb 3, 4:55 p.m.

    I'm pretty sure the global warming crow is just as accurate.... given how cold everyone has been this year... and last... and no statistical warming for the past 17 years. LOL.

  • dcuben2 Feb 3, 4:37 p.m.

    Wow... REALLY? A groundhog can't predict the weather?

    Sayin.'

  • Just Once Feb 3, 4:17 p.m.

    Well, my coin came up EARLY SPRING... that is my story and I am sticking to it.

  • Jimm57 Feb 3, 3:34 p.m.

    In the late '70's I worked in Radio news at a Long Island station. On Feb 1st my news director gave me a phone number to call and record a story. It was the number for the groundhog report for Groundhog day! We aired the story the next day. I remember feeling like I just found out there was no Santa Clause. Its all a ruse for publicity.
    ...and Spring starts March 21st, just like every year, 6 weeks away. No matter what any rodent says!

  • soapbox Feb 3, 3:23 p.m.

    Lighten up already! It's just an excuse for people to forget about how dismal February can be and throw a party.

    I particularly appreciate the "top-hat and tails" tradition in PA. It's a hoot to see some of those portly older gentlemen, with their many chins overflowing their starched collars & bow ties, clutching a fat, rumpled groundhog while the marching band plays some cheery German drinking tune.

    Trust me - in Northern PA they need to take advantage of any and all excuses to party in February!

  • clif4 Feb 3, 3:16 p.m.

    Every "Old Wive's Tale" or urban legend comes from somewhere and there is a grain of scientific truth somewhere. How about, instead of counting noon as the time he sees his shadow, how about if we look at the cloud cover in the morning when most animals are stirring. If we do that, how accurate is it?

  • NoMoreOfThat Feb 3, 2:30 p.m.

    The ground rat's record is actually much better than wral's, but the fact is neither can guess any better than you.

    BTW, there is still a little snow left here and there. Are we sure kids should be in school today?

  • dwntwnboy2 Feb 3, 2:24 p.m.

    Well, when you are right 51% of the time, you're wrong 49% of the time. LOL

  • cseanwatts Feb 3, 2:21 p.m.

    Wally has a 53% record of being correct in 14 years. If a coin flip is 53% I'm going to Atlantic City RIGHT NOW!

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