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John Wheeler: Squirrel and muskrat predictions need to be calibrated and quantified

The activity of squirrels, the thickness of muskrat houses and many other “signs” of the upcoming winter’s severity are poor predictors.

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FARGO — Most of us have very poor weather memories. We remember extreme weather, especially when it coincides with a particular life event such as wedding, or the birth of a child. But we are terrible at remembering a lot of the details and we are simply awful at recalling mundane weather. This is why anecdotal evidence of many kinds of natural weather predictors is not a reliable way to forecast.

The observed activity of squirrels, the observed thickness of muskrat houses and many other “signs” of the upcoming winter’s severity are poor predictors mainly because these observations are not scientifically measured nor are their relationships to winter severity scientifically measured. Instead, these things are usually just casual observations loosely related to vague observations of weather. During a cold snap in January, one may recall an observation of active squirrels in October. But without empirical testing, such relationships are useless as predictors.

Related Topics: WEATHER
John Wheeler is Chief Meteorologist for WDAY, a position he has had since May of 1985. Wheeler grew up in the South, in Louisiana and Alabama, and cites his family's move to the Midwest as important to developing his fascination with weather and climate. Wheeler lived in Wisconsin and Iowa as a teenager. He attended Iowa State University and achieved a B.S. degree in Meteorology in 1984. Wheeler worked about a year at WOI-TV in central Iowa before moving to Fargo and WDAY..
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