Sunday, February 16, 2014

Ground Fog Day

Six More Weeks of Summer? Or Not?

Everyone in the United States and Canada has heard about Groundhog Day on February 2. Punxsutawney Phil, the Pennsylvania groundhog, is a national icon. Whether or not he sees his shadow on Groundhog Day means there may or may not be six more weeks of Winter. He gets national media attention for this.

But what about whether or not there will be six more weeks of Summer? Shouldn't there be a holiday on August 2 to help us determine that? Clearly our calendar is missing a very important holiday. Is it an oversight, or are we simply in denial and think Summer can last forever? 

Ground Fog Day: A Day Not to Be Mist

Your questions answered, mostly

 Q. Haven't we gotten along just fine without Ground Fog Day?

A. Have we really? I think people have been in denial about the end of Summer. They go merrily along, wearing Bermuda shorts, tank tops, bikinis and such, then suddenly - BLAM! - it's Labor Day (or Labour Day in Canada) and the next thing you know, the kids are back in school, then the leaves start turning, and the next thing (or should that be the next next thing?) you know, you step outside in your Bermuda shorts or bikini and you freeze your, um, well, something rather vital off. The time has come for a national or even international Ground Fog Day. Wouldn't a little advance warning help?

Q. You ended with a question! Isn't that my job?

A. You're right. Sorry. Go ahead.

Q. Why do you say its time has come?

A. Its time has come because...well...ummm...uhhhh...because I thought of it, that's why! There's a story behind the origins of Ground Fog Day.

Q. And you're going to tell the story.

A: That's not a question.

Q: ::sigh:: Are you going to tell the story?

A. Of course! Back in the '70s a co-worker and I were doing a monthly employee newsletter. I'd seen something about little-known holidays and notable dates in history, none of which really existed, and decided to devote a page to a month's worth of similar stuff like "Procrastinators New Years Day" (March 1) and "First Sunday of Lint." For August 2, I wrote in "Ground Fog Day." At the time, that was it. Then in September 2008 I was looking up stuff about the Portland (Oregon) Pirate Festival and recalled the "Talk Like a Pirate Day" founders had been there in 2007. I was thinking they must have had fun making up their own holiday. It made me remember that long-ago calendar and Ground Fog Day seemed like a holiday to create. Being six months from Groundhog Day, it seemed to have possibilities.

Q: What's the big deal about February 2nd and August 2nd?

A: Each date is close to an ancient Celtic holiday. February 2nd, now popularly known as Groundhog Day, used to be celebrated by the Celts as Imbolc. It's halfway between the Winter Solstice and the Spring Equinox. Groundhog Day is based on the Scots tradition of looking for serpents leaving their Winter holes on that day. While much of North America is still locked in the dead of Winter, the Celtic lands of western Scotland, Ireland, Brittany in France and Galicia in Spain, are influenced by the Gulf Stream. This results in milder Winters than in places like Minnesota or New England.

A, Part II: Lughnasadh (pronounced more like Lunasa) is traditionally celebrated on August 1. It's halfway between the Summer Solstice and the Autumn Equinox. It's a day when the Scots bat little white balls around with sticks, trying to get them to go into holes in the ground. It's probably a lot safer than trying to annoy cold, sleepy serpents.

Q. Aren't there more than six weeks between August 2 and the first day of Autumn?

A. You had to get technical, didn't you? (Oops, sorry, that was a question.) Yes, you're right, but people know Groundhog Day is February 2. I figure if we try to establish Ground Fog Day on another date, people might get confused. Heck, I might get confused! Besides the dates of the Vernal Equinox (when Spring starts) and the Autumnal Equinox (three guesses what starts then, first two don't count) keep moving around a bit, so neither February 2 or August 2 are six (or seven) weeks before them. Also, back in the 1700s they changed the calendar, which threw things off several days. It's more like seven weeks for Ground Fog Day, but again, people (and I) could get confused if we talk about seven more weeks of Summer because they're used to hearing about Groundhog Day and six more weeks of Winter. Let's keep it simple.

Q. Like you?

A. Hey!

Q. Sorry, but "seven more weeks of Summer" sounds better.

A. I can't answer that since you didn't ask a question.

Q. Picky, picky, picky. All right, try this: You said "we." Who are "we"?

A. To start off, it's just me. I'm hoping people won't think too hard about what that means: I'm writing both sides of this conversation. I'm also hoping people will have some ideas about Ground Fog Day and help out.

Q. Do you really think people are that weird?

A. Clearly some are. Have you seen the Squidoo lens for the Mosquito Protection Society? What about  Talk Like a Pirate Day? Ever heard of Dave Barry, who helped make Talk Like a Pirate Day an international phenomenon? What about Jasper Fforde? And what about Burning Man, Faerieworlds, Renaissance Fairs, and so on? Society is richer for having weird people in it!

Q. OK, I see your point, and I'll even forgive you for putting five questions in an answer.

A. And I'll forgive you for not asking a question again.

 What is ground fog?

A. Technically speaking, the term for the type of fog in question is radiation fog. It forms at night under a clear sky when cool air pools in low-lying areas. As Autumn approaches, the temperature in the low-lying areas is more likely to get to within five degrees Fahrenheit (2.8 degrees Celsius) of the dewpoint at night and fog forms.

Q. Radiation? Does that mean we'll need Geiger counters and those bulky suits like they wear in nuclear power plants?

A. No. We're talking about radiation, not radioactivity. Heat radiates from the ground when air cools. If there are no clouds, heat radiates into space and ground fog can form. If it's cloudy, some of the heat gets trapped by the clouds and no ground fog forms.

Q. How deep does ground fog get?

A. It can be very shallow sometimes, not even up to your knees. At other times it can cover a house.

Q. When does ground fog become just plain old fog?

A. Ground fog covers less than 60% of the sky and doesn't extend to the base of any overhead clouds. Most people think of ground fog as being rather shallow, as shown in the photo. "Regular" fog is usually much deeper, more widespread and more of a hazard to drivers and pilots.

Q. Is it dangerous?

A. It can be if it forms over a road and obscures road markings or is deep enough to hide other cars. But even off the road it could be dangerous. If it's thick, it could be hiding the infamous Bugblatter Beast of Traal!

Q. But isn't the infamous Bugblatter Beast of Traal so stupid it assumes if you can't see it, it can't see you?

A. Well, yes, so it's not much of a danger unless you happen to stumble over one. I've heard they get quite annoyed about that.

Meat_GrinderQ. How do you grind fog?

A. All right, now you're just being silly.

Q. Why does the porridge bird lay its eggs in the air?

A. Really. Stop!

Is There an Official Site for Ground Fog Day?

A: Punxsutawney, PA is the town that comes to mind (often misspelled in many minds) for Groundhog Day, but it's only one of many places that have their own weather-prognosticating groundhogs. So over time, as this idea catches on like wildfire, there can be more than one location where Ground Fog Day is observed.

To start off, I'm thinking of some low-lying place in Boring, Oregon. That's partly because I live not too far away from Boring, and partly because with a name like that, the town could probably use a little excitement once a year. I'm also thinking any place Ground Fog Day is observed should have an interesting name, even though saying Boring is interesting sounds like an oxymoron.

A Few More Questions about Ground Fog Day

With answers that might even make sense, but don't count on it

 Q. How is Ground Fog Day celebrated?

A. On August 2, people head out to be at the locally designated Ground Fog Day site by sunrise.

Q. By sunrise? You mean I'd have to get out of bed that early?

A. Um, yeah. Ground fog usually dissipates soon after the sun hits it.

Q. You're kidding, right?

A. Well, um, let's could party all night the night before and then go out to the site. You could combine celebrating Ground Fog Day with celebrating Lughnasadh on August 1.

Q. OK, that might work. So you go out to wherever the site is. Then what?

A. This is where it gets a little different from Groundhog Day. The big thing on February 2 is the shadow. If the groundhog sees his shadow, there's going to be six more weeks of Winter. With Ground Fog Day, the big thing is the ground fog (duh!). But if you see ground fog, that doesn't mean six more weeks of Summer. It means an early Autumn because the ground fog and Autumn are both associated with cooler weather.

Q. Don't you mean an early Fall?

A. That depends on how many Fog Cutters you had partying all night.

Q. So you go out, don't see any ground fog, and there's going to be six (or seven) more weeks of Summer. Then what do you do?

A. Keep on partying if you're up to it, or go home and Autumn, er, fall into bed knowing there's more bikini weather ahead. Or so you hope.

Q. On the other hand, you go out, you see ground fog and that says there's going to be an early Autumn. What do you do then?

A. Keep on partying like crazy because you know time is running short.

Q. So this is just an excuse to party, right?

A. You seem to be catching on.

The information and photos in this post were originally created for my lens Ground Fog Day, which has since been deleted.

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