Clare Lane: You're listening to WBEZ. We've got plenty of winter ahead, or at least so say the groundhogs. On Thursday, Punxsutawney Phil and our local prognosticator, Woodstock Willie, both saw their shadows, which tradition says means six more weeks of winter. Thankfully we don't only have to rely on groundhogs for our weather forecast. We can go to our friend Dr Scott Collis, an atmospheric scientist at nearby Argon National Laboratory. Welcome back Scott.
Scott Collis: Thank you Clare.
Clare Lane: Okay, it's time to fact check some groundhogs. Phil and Willie both signaled six more weeks of winter. How accurate is that forecast for the Chicago area?
Scott Collis: So for the Chicago area right now it's looking very much like according to the climate prediction center that we're going to see a warmer than normal winter at least for the next month. And Woodstock Willie, you know, his odds aren't that good. He averages about 50% accuracy when it comes to predicting an above normal winter. So you kinda better off flipping a coin.
Clare Lane: And how accurate is Phil generally do we have that data?
Scott Collis: Yeah, we do. Our Pennsylvanian partner unfortunately comes in at 40%. So again you're actually better off just guessing than listening to our meteorologically inclined groundhog.
Clare Lane: Scientists are obviously not looking at their own shadows to make weather predictions, but how do they make forecasts several weeks in advance.
Scott Collis: So there are two main ingredients that go into a forecast. First of all, we take the current state of the atmosphere, the oceans, the snowpack and we feed that information into large supercomputers like the Argonne Leadership Computing Facility. We have at Argonne National Lab and it solves a bunch of equations and tries to work out how those patterns will change, but the really important ingredient is the meteorologist, the scientist who actually looks at the output of these models as forecast guidance and then looks for similarities from seasons before. And the forecasts you see on the National Weather Service is both for weather and climate really are the result of that expert knowledge.
Clare Lane: So if you are better off betting against Punxsutawney Phil, funny that Groundhog Day has stayed so popular.
Scott Collis: It is especially, when you look at the National Weather Service's climate prediction center forecast are more like 80-90% accurate.
Clare Lane: There's also the Staten Island Groundhog essentially he predicted an early spring and it's just, it's a crapshoot,
Scott Collis: It's a crapshoot, and it all comes from, you look at the date two February is kind of the deepest of winter folks want something to hold onto.
Clare Lane: Right whether that'd be hating, you know, together we're hating six more weeks of winter or together we are welcoming an early spring.
Scott Collis: Exactly.
Clare Lane: I've been speaking with Dr. Scott Collins from Argon National Laboratory, who says may be an early spring after all. Thanks Scott.
Scott Collis: My pleasure Clare.
Clare Lane: And if you have a topic that you want us to cover our weekly climate segment, you can email firstname.lastname@example.org. This is WBEZ.
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