Weather Discovery Center is science’s answer to Phil

Thousands of people were expected to make the trek to Gobbler’s Knob on Saturday morning to witness Punxsutawney Phil’s predication of either an early spring or prolonged winter – but not everyone.

Other people in search of scientific prognostication on weather were expected to make their way to the Weather Discovery Center in downtown Punxsutawney.

“We get people from Gobblers’ Knob and we get people who don’t go to Gobblers’ Knob,” said Marlene Leelock, director of the Weather Discovery Center. “Last year, we had a group who came in who did not go to the knob. They just wanted to see what else was going on in town. Of course visitation varies on what day of the week Groundhog Day falls.”

With Groundhog Day falling during the weekend this year, Leelock said the center was anticipating 700 to 800 visitors.

“This is a warm place for people to go, and they might learn something while they are here,” she said.

Visitors may be surprised by what they find in the center.

“We have our weather lore exhibit, which is about folklore vs. science,” said Leelock. “The exhibits explain why some weather legends may or may not be true. Like the old saying about sailor’s delight, that one does hold true. But the one about cows laying down to predict rain can’t really be tied to any science. We have both.”

And what about the biggest weather folklore, the legend of the weather predicting groundhog?

“There is science behind the shadow, but we kind of gloss over the whole Phil thing,” said Leelock, smiling.

One of the most popular exhibits, Leelock said, is the Accuweather forecasting station. It is a green screen with live graphics supplied by the weather agency. It has current weather radar maps so the visitor can do the whole weather report on closed circuit TV.

Popular with the younger set is the Twist and Shout exhibit.

“Sometimes you think if that was the only exhibit we had that would be OK with them,” said Leelock. “Like all of the exhibits, the Twist and Shout is educational. It demonstrates the effect of a tornado on the human body.”

New at the center is the Precipitation Puzzler from the Carnegie Science Center in Pittsburgh.

“Precipitation was a topic we didn’t get into in depth yet,” Leelock said.

And, new exhibits are always being considered.

“When the Punxsutawney schools consolidated, the center received the planetarium equipment. We are starting to investigate adding a little planetarium onto the facility,” Leelock said.