Friday, February 4, 2011

Singleton Phil

Singleton Phil continued the family profession but actually went to university and became a professional meteorologist with Environment Canada. His first career as a nuclear physicist was too much like living in his burrow so he opted for a career change and the fresh air outside the hole in the ground. His more famous relations took the media route and jumped into the forecast game without any academic training.

His Second Cousin in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania is certainly the star of the clan and kept the family name. (Ground hog’s surnames are actually their first given name preceded by the location of their burrow.) Another cousin disowned the family and now lives in Wiarton. “Philly”, now known as “Willie” was the first of the clan who learnt how to cross the road after observing the success of some chickens. There are now furcasters scattered around North America. And that’s the truth... although most have had to change their names because of their media handlers - just like Marilyn Monroe. You might be surprised to learn that Buckeye Chuck, General Beauregard Lee, Staten Island Chuck, and Shubenacadie Sam are all cousins of Singleton Phil.

Cousin Phil in Pennsylvania's Punxsutawney emerged on Groundhog Day 2011 to make his 125th annual weather forecast to predict a shorter winter. Punxsutawney Phil, not being a trained meteorologist like Singleton Phil, still forecasts the old superstitious way based on his shadow. If Punxsy Phil sees his shadow on February 2nd, the Christian holiday of Candlemas, he feigns terror and runs back into his hole thus predicting a longer winter – more than six more weeks of cold. If Punxsy Phil doesn’t see his shadow, well he acts cool and does what he does best (continuing to eat which explains why he is overwweight) indicating that spring is right around the corner. The only natural reason that any ground hog would be leaving his cosy cavern in February at all is to find love in time for Valentine’s Day. The real reason that Punxsy bales from his bed on February 2nd is that his media bosses tell him that he must make an appearance for the masses. No appearance ... no caviar...

Before Wednesday, Punxsy Phil had seen his shadow 98 times and hadn't seen it 15 times since 1887. The media star and self proclaimed “Prognosticator of Prognosticators” claims an 85% accuracy but he doesn’t consider the spatial and temporal aspects of performance measurement so his verification is pretty much meaningless and biased. If one completes even the most rudimentary scientific verification of his actual skill, Punxsy Phil actually scores a pitiful 39%. That’s the glamour of the media though where flash can be more valuable than fact.

Singleton Phil, after 35 years with Environment Canada claims an 86% accuracy in both time and space. Whisker plots of the data using radar, satellite and lightning remote sensing data to supplement the human observations, places these numbers on a solid scientific footing. Agent Maxwell Smart would agree that 86 is more than a number pulled out of thin air.

Singleton Phil sometimes wishes he had gone the high flying media route like Punxsy and Wiarton. The financial rewards with mass media are certainly greater but the quiet, family life of the scientific meteorologist ground hog on night shift still had its rewards. Now it’s time for Singleton Phil's real passion, painting the weather with his own hog’s hair brushes.

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