I’m a little late with my second blog this month, but I was waiting for the January Thaw. With only a few days left in the month, it doesn’t look like it’s going to get here. That raises the question just how real is it?

First of all, anyone who’s lived in the Northeast knows all about it. For a few days during the end of January, the temperatures rise, snow melts, ice thins, and everyone begins to think spring. It is a piece of weather lore firmly planted in the human imagination in this region. Proving it statistically or scientifically is far more elusive.

The American Meteorological Society defines it “as a period of mild weather, popularly supposed to recur each year in late January in New England and other parts of the northeastern United States.” So far so good. But there’s no statistical evidence to suggest that it exists. The AMS calls it a singularity – “a characteristic meteorological condition that tends to occur on or near a specific calendar date more frequently than chance would indicate.”

The problem arises whenever someone tries to define it. How much should the temperature rise? How long should it last ? When should it begin and when should it end? Those who’ve gone back and studied the weather records have found that there’s almost no consistent pattern, leading some to conclude it’s a “statistical phantom,” a figment of the collective imagination. Some have gone so far as to suggest that it arises from our need to find patterns whether or not there’s any underlying coherent cause.

Be that as it may, it’s 20 degrees out, snowing hard yet again, school has been canceled for the eighth day this school year, and I’m going out to do some snowshoeing before I start thinking about shoveling out. Monday is Groundhog Day, and I’ll see what he has to say, statisticians be damned.

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