Gary Rotstein's The Morning File: Please, Punxsutawney Phil, be merciful: Bring on spring

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Dear Punxsutawney Phil:

I have not written to you before, but I hope you don't hold it against me. It's just that I've never been sure whether to believe the hype, in addition to possessing a general dislike of rodents.

But regardless of whether you're real or just another rural myth, it's time to make a request: I need to ask you on Groundhog Day next Sunday to declare an early spring. I can never remember if that means seeing your shadow or not seeing your shadow and couldn't care less which one it is -- please just do it.

You've heard perhaps of those death bed converts to Jesus who figure they've got nothing to lose by embracing religion at the last minute, when they never gave it a thought before. That's sort of the way I feel about you and a new willingness to put my faith in your forecasts.

It's still possible you're just a silly excuse for a midwinter boost to Jefferson County's economy while getting cold people inebriated early in the morning in a way that some would find unhealthy. But I don't see the harm in becoming a believer now, especially if there's a chance you'll create a glimmer of hope for an early end to what many of us undoubtedly view as the worst winter of our recent memory.

Though you've been incommunicado for months, word may have somehow reached you of this "Polar Vortex" effect being felt this winter here in Western Pennsylvania and everywhere else. Most of us would prefer to have spent the past month or two underground with you rather than enduring conditions in the real world.

Half of Pittsburgh has the flu. Half of the remainder have fallen on the ice or in the snow. The rest have had broken water pipes, dead car batteries or frostbite. And 98.6 percent are weary of sweeping or shoveling snow from the sidewalk every 24 to 48 hours and scraping or brushing it from the car.

Yes, I know -- "poor, poor us." Based on our location in the United States, we should expect nothing else. But we've come to assume global warming will prevent the sort of winter woes we remember from childhood, when it was fun to get days off from school. Now that it's our children benefiting -- at least in their eyes -- from frequent delays and cancellations, it's nothing but a big pain in the rear end.

It would be rare for you to predict an early spring. That's only happened 16 times in 116 years. And it wouldn't seem to make a whole lot of meteorological sense coming at the end of a week in which temperatures are about to plunge below zero again.

But Phil, you know as well as anyone the questionable value of meteorological forecasting. Your own accuracy with annual predictions has been ranked at just 39 percent. Some would say the weathermen and weatherwomen on channels 2, 4 and 11 don't do a whole lot better. (Meteorology must be a science, since it has that -ology ending to it, but then again, so does astrology.)

A lot of people undoubtedly would be willing to overlook all the past failures if you can just call an early spring and make it happen. (Pittsburghers have notoriously short memories, which is why we're already ready to boo an athlete who did great for us as soon as they return in the uniform of another team.)

Plus, at this point, a lot of people don't even need an actual early spring to feel good about the weather. If simply normal winter temperatures and precipitation would return instead of this steady diet of Siberian hardships, you'd find a lot of gratitude. People are tired of feeling like a walk across Downtown might as well be a slog across the Trans-Canada Highway.

So from one Western Pennsylvanian to another, as one who has enjoyed watching you and Bill Murray in "Groundhog Day" over and over so many times it feels like a scene out of "Groundhog Day," I just wanted to get the request in early to give you and the guy wearing the top hat plenty of time to think it over.

And if you get it right, I promise never to make fun of you and your sorry track record of predictions again.

Gary Rotstein: or 412-263-1255.

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