The hibernating bears… when they awake, now, THAT’S springtime!
American marmots predict the weather, and Russian bears are still sound asleep. Moreover, rightly so, spring isn’t coming very soon. This year, winter has been stark and severe. Not surprisingly, many are looking forward to the warming in the springtime, and some even paid tribute to foreign traditions such as “Groundhog Day”. However, in the Moscow Zoo, the bears herald the coming of spring, not the marmots. This year, they have not yet awakened, Natalia Istratov, the head of the press service of the Moscow Zoo, told Voice of Russia World Service. They usually wake up during the snowmelt. Every year, it happens at different times. However, when these animals wake up, one can confidently say, “spring is here”.
In the Moscow Zoo, there are no marmots, but in the Leningrad Zoo, there are three. “Two of them are in their usual place, that is, in their area, and now they are asleep. They fall asleep in October and sleep until April. In addition, another marmot came to us recently, in late summer. Before that, he lived with a private family, that is, all the time he was in heated conditions, and had a little shot down the chart. In the winter, he did not sleep at all. His name is Frolov, he’s 5-years-old and on 2 February, he didn’t do anything special, he just rose as usual. He wakes up every morning”, said Aleksandr Pisarev, a spokesman for the Leningrad Zoo.
Olesya the marmot from Nizhniy Novgorod is famous because, after all, she took part in the celebration of Groundhog Day. Her behaviour that day that led to international attention, Komsomolskaya Pravda reported from Nizhniy Novgorod. Olesya fully confirmed the “forecast” of the chief US Groundhog Phil, who found that there was going to be a long winter. Ukrainian scientists suddenly awakened an elderly Kharkov marmot named Timka. He seems to have refuted the opinion of his colleagues. He did not return to its hole, from which the public concluded that, in Kharkov, spring is not far off.
Groundhog Day is celebrated in the United States on 2 February, the same day as Catholic Candlemas. In Russia, we celebrate Candlemas on 15 February, and we have many customs associated with this day because, according to folk belief, “winter and spring meet” on this day. In the US, the tradition of celebrating “Groundhog Day” dates back to 1887, according to the website Meteonovosti. If the day is overcast, and the awakened creature quietly leaves his hole, you can be sure that there shall be an early spring. On the other hand, if the sun shines and the animal sees its shadow, it hides again and goes back to sleep, then, winter will last another six weeks.
Is there any sense in these folk beliefs, does the behaviour of the sleepy marmot in the USA really signify anything? This we asked Daria Gushchina, leading researcher of the Department of Meteorology and Climatology, Faculty of Geography, at Moscow State University. She said, “We trust signs that only receive a partial scientific explanation. For example, smoke, when it rises horizontally or vertically, you can explain that physically. With regard to other folk beliefs, one of our colleagues at the department even defended a thesis on this topic. They analysed about 20 folk beliefs, judging their degree of justification and significance. It turned out that there are only three significant three folk omens associated with the weather, the bird cherry cold in May, the Epiphany frosts, and Indian summer”.
Professor Gushchina did not agree that this winter was extremely cold, instead, we faced some sort of climatic anomaly. She emphasised, “The average climatic norm for the month of January is about -10 degrees (14 degrees F). Of course, this year, it was colder. However, there have been -40 degree (-40 degrees F) winter frosts, which we did not observe this year. We compare the current winter with several past winters, which were just an anomaly and were too warm”.
She explained, “The weather this year was determined by a Siberian anticyclone. It is centred in Yakutia. The pole of cold in the Northern Hemisphere is found in Yakutsk, Oymyakon, and Verkhoyansk. If the area of influence of the anticyclone is not very large, it is limited to areas of Eastern Siberia. Often, this effect extends to Western Siberia. This year, even European Russia is at the mercy of the Siberian anticyclone, which resulted in record low temperatures.
Typically, winter weather in Russia is under the influence of three regions. When we have warm air from the Atlantic, then, we have quite warm winters. Sometimes, we have cold air from the Arctic. Well, finally, the most severe winters are connected with the arrival of the Siberian anticyclone, when we experience the same processes as in Siberia”.
Punxsutawney Phil in a combative and snood mood… don’t mess with the best.
Developments in the “atmospheric front” usually come from the predictions of meteorologists at the weather centre. Therefore, let’s ask them about the weather.
Tatiana Pozdnyakova, chief specialist at the RF Hydrometeorological Centre in Moscow, in an interview with Voice of Russia spoke about the average climate found in February. She said, “February in Moscow is a winter month. Air temperature at night should go down to -11 or -12 degrees (10 to 12 degrees F), and daytime temperatures remain negative, at about -4 or -5 degrees (23 to 25 degrees F). True, early in February we were pleased with the warm weather. In some places near Moscow, there was even a thaw, the first this year. Unfortunately, the warm weather is on its way out. Starting on 4 February, the weather in the capital region will be determined by a cold anticyclone system. Temperatures will fall. It is possible that by the end of this week, in Moscow, that we will again see frosts down to -20 degrees (-4 degrees F). Daytime temperatures will be around -13 to -15 degrees (5 to 8 degrees F), which is lower than the climatic norm by 3-4 degrees (5 to 7 degrees F).
According to the forecast of meteorologists, we expect an increase in temperature to slightly negative values during the day around 9-10 February. Temperature during the night hours will range from -2 to -7 degrees (19 to 28 degrees F); during the day, it will be -3 to +2 (26 to 35 degrees F). In the subsequent days of February, the weather will be windy, with little snow and below zero temperatures, both at night and in the daylight hours. The prevailing background temperature in the second half of February at night will be from -8 to -13 (9 to 18 degrees F), daytime temperatures will range from -5 to -10 degrees (14 to 23 degrees F). Spring warmth awaits us only in March”.
Thus, the forecast of the meteorologist does not contradict the conclusions of the marmots.
3 February 2010
Voice of Russia World Service