My Catawba County

Scotty Powell vs. Punxsutawney Phil

Scotty Powell vs. Punxsutawney Phil

Friday, February 2nd is Groundhog’s Day, and we’ll witness the annual tradition of predicting the first day of spring. While we appreciate Phil’s efforts, we thought it might be helpful to talk to an actual meteorologist and get his take, so we reached out to Scotty Powell and asked him a few questions.

We’re going to find out Punxsutawney Phil’s prediction for the arrival of spring next week. What is your prediction?
I think that we will have an early spring. Over the last few years, it has been a cooler spring, but it seems we will be flipping the script on that this year.

Can you explain if there is any science behind the tradition of predicting the arrival of spring based on a groundhog's shadow?
None on the weather front, but science helps him see it for other reasons. Most of the time this is done in the early morning hours. There are so many cameras and lights that it is hard for him to not see his shadow. Plus, early February in Pennsylvania is normally very cloudy with limited sunlight.

What are the key factors meteorologists considering when making predictions for the upcoming year's weather patterns?
We look at things called teleconnections. One of the primary ones many people may know or at least heard of is El Nino and La Nina. That deals with the Pacific water near the equator. If we have El Nino that means that we have warmer than average water temperatures. It normally brings us a highly active storm pattern in the winter and spring season. This also can slightly hamper the tropical season, as an active storm track means more wind shear. One thing hurricanes and tropical systems don’t like is wind shear.

The opposite is La Nina, which is when the waters in the Pacific are cooler than normal. This means a less active storm track, which will hamper storm chances in the winter and spring. But this provides ideal conditions for more tropical development in the summer and fall. This normally means a more active tropical season, something we could see this upcoming year.

Are there any specific weather events or phenomena that you expect will be significant to our area in the next year?
A few. I think this active storm track that we have right now will continue to affect the area through spring. I think that offers a better chance of seeing a more active severe weather season. Also, with as wet as it has been, we should see this pattern continue. I think the chances of seeing some flooding events will be possible. Looking towards the summer and fall, I think we could see more influence from the tropics. But being in La Nina in the fall could also bring on drought conditions. That will be something to look at towards the end of 2024.

As far as the current winter weather opportunities, maybe one or two chances in February and that could be it.

How do meteorologists handle uncertainties and unexpected events when making long-term weather forecasts?
Working in weather, you are always working in a fluid environment. The atmosphere is fluid and changes are always occurring. I think our experience of past set ups that are similar to what our model data output is showing is key. You have to really be immersed in your area and try to understand all the nuances, that helps you be a better forecaster for your particular area. 

What advice do you have for individuals who are curious about weather patterns and want to learn more about meteorology?
If you are a student and you want to pursue meteorology, do it. Yes, looking at the course work can be scary. But it is worth it to chase your dream. It is also important to be a great communicator. In fact, half of my job is forecasting, the other half is being an effective communicator so people can understand what is happening and how they need to prepare for it. Finally, social media is a great tool for outreach. Reach out to your local or favorite meteorologist, tell them you are interested in learning more about weather, or that you want to help contribute. The weather community is a great community and very willing to help those who share a love and passion for weather.

Is there anything else you would like to add?
Western North Carolina is a special place, both beautiful and diverse. The area is one of the hardest areas to forecast thanks to the relative proximity of the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico, the Appalachian Mountains, and the terrain throughout the area. Weather is a matter of a degree or two. We often have all the ingredients for big time events, however it is simply difficult to get them all together to produce that event.

Feel free to follow me on Twitter/X: @ScottyPowellWX and on Facebook Meteorologist Scotty Powell