Winter in Arizona was in full swing in the month of February. On Saturday the 23rd, the mountains around Tucson were white capped. That made front page news in the local newspaper on Sunday. February 2nd is Ground Hog Day. The original Ground Hog weather forecaster; Punxsutawney Phil, did not see his shadow, and predicted an early spring. Punxsutawney is a small farming community in central Pennsylvania. Once a year on February 2, the Ground Hog makes a prediction of either 6 more weeks of winter, or that spring is just around the corner.
Ever wonder why February 2 is Ground Hog Day? And how did this tradition get started in the first place? To answer question #1, take a look at your calendars. The first day of winter begins on December 20, and the first day of spring is March 20. That puts February 2 just about right in the middle between those two dates.
But how did this get started in the first place? I’m not so sure of that. I have visited Punxsutawney several times, passing through on my way to other locations in Pennsylvania. It is a nice place to stop for a cup of coffee. About 6,000 people live in the community, and it does have an airport. Many of the central Pennsylvania communities do have airports. Not large airports, but enough to support the communities and the farms nearby.
Maybe the most important organization in the community is the Ground Hog Club. The folklore surrounding Ground Hog Day is huge. Apparently this started in the late 1800s, around 1887. While sipping my coffee and looking around the town, I wondered how this all came about. I can just see a small group of local farmers, also having coffee in the middle of winter, and talking about how to put this town on the map. Farmers work hard all summer, but have little to do when the ground is frozen in the winter. The Ground Hog hibernates in the winter, so it would be pretty rare to see one out on February 2. One thing leads to another, and soon you have a local folk lore that has gone on for over 100 years.
What does this have to do with aviation? Well, for one thing it is a reminder that winter is NOT over with, and that we need to be careful to avoid the affects of winter on our airplanes and our flying skills. Don’t fly in icing conditions. If you have ever been in icing conditions, you won’t want to do it again! Even here in Arizona, icing is a big concern. Maybe not as big as in the upper mid-west, but still something we need to know about.
Get a good weather briefing before any flight, and plan for an out if needed. In northern Arizona, like Flagstaff and the Grand Canyon area, spring may still be a few more weeks away. In southern Arizona, perhaps, we will have an “early spring” as predicted by our furry friend in Central Pennsylvania, but don’t count on it. Check that weather before you go.
Winter might be a good time to look for a safety seminar sponsored by your Arizona Pilots Association and the FAASTeam. You will find a seminar somewhere in the State each month. They are free, and you can earn WINGS credit by attending. And, don’t forget to “Bring Your Wingman!”