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Could climate change make Groundhog Day obsolete?

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Updated February 02, 2019 09:00 AM EST

Editor's note: This article was first published Feb. 1, 2017. We're bringing it back today in observation of Groundhog Day!

WASHINGTON (CIRCA) — Each Feb. 2, the legendary groundhog Punxsutawney Phil tells us if spring will come early.

But what if spring starts coming early every year?  

A perpetually early spring

According to the 2014 National Climate Assessment, average U.S. temperatures are projected to increase anywhere from 3 degrees Fahrenheit to 12 degrees Fahrenheit by the year 2100. These projections depend on the climate model used and the emissions scenario—in other words, how much carbon we emit during that time. 

In short, the more carbon we emit, the more irrelevant the groundhog's job becomes in February.

A decades-old observation

Climate scientist Michael Mann, who directs the Earth System Science Center at Pennsylvania State University, observed the possibility of a perpetually early spring—and therefore Punxsutawney Phil's possible unemployment—more than a decade ago.

"If we continue to increase greenhouse gas concentrations at current rates, the answer will become simple," he wrote in a 2006 blog post. "Spring will come early every year."

'Serious problems' with a longer spring

But Mann also urged people to consider that a longer spring isn't necessarily a great thing.

"It could, in fact, lead to serious problems for plants, animals, and entire ecosystems," he wrote. "Living things have adapted to the timing of the seasons over many thousands of years. Here, we are changing the timing of the seasons on timescales of decades.

"Plants and animals just don’t adapt well to changes on such short timescales."

Of course, Phil may not be the best weatherman out there to begin with.

EXPERIENCE MORE

Fufu the hedgehog has a second opinion you need to hear. She says spring is coming.
Punxsutawney Phil's handlers prepare for new prognostication
A young entrepreneur from Tennessee tackles climate change

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