The Death Penalty For A Weather Forecast?

Published 5:25 pm Thursday, April 4, 2013

Direct from the “you can't make this stuff up” folder comes news that Butler County, Ohio prosecuting attorney Michael Gmoser filed an indictment against Punxsutawney Phil.

The crime?

An inaccurate forecast, basically.

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And he was seeking the death penalty.

Weather forecasters everywhere may wish to take note, and those with an eye on a career in TV meteorology may find a few openings soon. Openings they may no longer wish to fill.

The indictment reads:

“On or about February 02, 2013, at Gobber's Knob, Punxsutawney Phil did purposely, and with prior calculation and design, cause the people to believe that Spring would come early. Contrary to the Groundhog Day report, a snowstorm and record low temperatures have been and are predicted to continue in the near future, which constitutes the offense of MISREPRESENTATION OF EARLY SPRING, an Unclassified Felony, and against the peace and dignity of the State of Ohio.

“SPECIFICATION: The people further find and specify that due to the aggravating circumstances and misrepresentation to the people that the death penalty be implemented to the defendant, Punxsutawney.”

At least Gmoser didn't call the groundhog a dirty rat but, having said that you've said it all.

The death penalty may seem a bit harsh for a weather forecaster who spends the year living in a hole six-feet under ground anyway. Over-egging the pudding, you might call it.

I type these words, by the way, with my fingers still thawing out from shoveling snow this morning in late March as yet another snowstorm wraps us up here in Virginia, too.

Keeping track of the post-Groundhog Day blizzards has been difficult. But can we blame a groundhog, in general, and this particular groundhog, specifically?

Were I an advocate for Mr. Phil I might point out that he was rudely awoken on the morning of February 2 by dignitaries in funny hats and thrust out into the elements, surrounded by media, with demands to foretell the coming of spring or the continued onslaught of winter.

Mr. Phil is not paid. Mr. Phil has made no contractual covenants with anyone regarding the proximity of spring vis a vis winter.

In fact, the actual truth of the matter is that on each February 2 it's the human dignitaries who report whether Phil can see his shadow or not, and so they, in point of fact, are to blame for any miscasting of the weather. Not the poor innocent groundhog, who remains silent throughout what for him must be an ordeal, wrenched, as he was, from sleep.

February 2 should be called Humans Holding And Speaking For The Groundhog Day.

The presumption of innocence is the golden thread that must stitch the fabric of justice into a quilt that keeps all of us warm.

There was no act of commission by Mr. Phil. Any evidence against him is circumstantial.

Gmoser expects Mr. Phil to appeal, and certainly he shall.

“His defense will be he didn't know his rear end from a hole in the ground,” Gmoser said in press reports of the indictment.

I beg to differ.

Certainly, any groundhog knows the difference between his or her buttocks and the hole in which they live. Clearly, every February 2 finds Punxsutawney officials pulling Mr. Phil out of his hole in the ground, not his buttocks.

So the charge must fall and fail on utter lack of merit, however much I personally agree that the continued hammering of snow throughout the length and breadth of March did make one wish justice could be brought to bear on the responsible party.

But Mother Nature has diplomatic immunity.

And for that reason I am happy to report that in the final analysis, Gmoser offered the hope that everyone will understand that his call for prosecution and the death penalty were “tongue-in-cheek.”

Much like most weather forecasts.