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Can animals predict the weather?

Groundhogs don't make good meteorologists, but a few critters do.

By Rich_Maloof Jan 31, 2013 5:18PM

Punxsutawney Phil, the grumpy groundhog from central Pennsylvania, doesn’t appear to be a particularly bright beast. Due respect. The oversized rodent is only up against 50/50 odds on predicting an early spring versus six more weeks of winter weather, and still he’s been right only about 37 percent of the time over the past 115 years (the StormFax Weather Almanac has been keeping track). Not impressive, Phil.

The safe money says he can’t even spell Punxsutawney, and it’s right there in his name.

Photo: Isabelle Lafrance/Getty ImagesIs the behavior of any other animal more reliable when it comes to forecasting the weather? Do cows lay down when it’s going to rain, or do “trout jump high when rain is nigh”?
There’s not much evidence proving it so. You may have observed that your own dog very reliably begs to come inside just before it rains, or that your cat always walks in circles every time a storm is about to hit. Of course, when you try to prove it to a friend, the cat will walk a straight line—if only out of spite. You know cats.

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While folklore of this kind is often rooted in age-old observations, proven science has identified just a few reliable meteorologists in the animal kingdom. Among them:

Sharks may head for deeper water before a big hurricanes arrives (in that case…yay for hurricanes). Researchers have observed the phenomenon while tracking tagged sharks, and believe they can sense changes in hydrostatic (water) pressure caused by an oncoming storm.

Birds, known to be sensitive to barometric (air) pressure, seek protection and grow quiet before a storm. If your neighborhood is suddenly overrun with birds, a migrating flock may be sheltering in the trees after having gotten wind of a coming storm. Either that, or you are neighbors with Tippi Hedren.

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Worms make their way upward to escape rising groundwater — only to meet their fate under children’s feet on the sidewalk. Okay, not very impressive, but what do you want? They’re worms.

Bing: More about Punksutawney Phil

Crickets do offer an impressive read on the current temperature. Their chirping sound is made when the wing of a male cricket brushes against a toothed vein on the underside of the opposite wing. The metabolism of these cold-blooded insects increases with temperature, enabling more frequent muscle contractions to move the wings. A rule of nature known as Dolbear’s Law says that you can determine the temperature in Fahrenheit degrees by counting the number of chirps in 15 seconds and adding 40 to that number. To calculate degrees on the Celsius scale, look for a foreign cricket.

Greetings: Send a Groundhog Day ecard today.

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Photo: Isabelle Lafrance/Getty Images

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