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Northern Hemisphere residents hoping for some respite from this year’s bitterly cold winter may have to keep their warm coats on a little longer. For if legendary groundhog Punxsutawney Phil is right, the chilly weather will continue for at least six more weeks.
The woodchuck made his prediction on February 2, to the hundreds of cheering fans, who had arrived early to attend the party that preceded the announcement at Gobbler’s Knob in Punxsutawney, PA. Phil, who was carefully lifted from his tree-trunk lair by two tuxedo-clad handlers, spent a few minutes seeking his shadow before conveying the following message to the President and Inner Circle in “Groundhogese.”
Up early this morning
Far from home
Are you searching for
the Phil-osopher's stone?
Well, even my best friends
They don’t know.
Is it an early spring
Or just more snow
My faithful followers,
your hands (and my paws) are getting cold
So here is my forecast
Not lead, but solid gold:
I see my royal Shadow!
Six more weeks of Winter to go!
However, those hoping for an early spring should not despair. Phil’s most famous rival, New York’s Staten Island Chuck, did not see his shadow, causing him to declare an early spring. Nova Scotia’s groundhog, Shubenacadie Sam, who has been forecasting the weather since 1987, agreed with Chuck as did Lucy the lobster, who made her inaugural prediction this year at the Canadian province’s South Shore.
So who should one trust? Since Phil has been predicting the weather for over 130 years, he is the most experienced, and according to Punxsutawney residents, always right. However, human meteorologists claim the groundhog’s record is far from perfect. According to NOAA’s National Climatic Data Center, only six, or 20 percent, of the groundhog’s last 30 predictions since 1998 have been accurate. An analysis of Phil’s record since he began the forecasts in 1887 indicates a slightly better 39 percent accuracy rate. Chuck, who entered the profession in 1981, appears to be more credible, with an 80 percent accuracy rate. Whether the veteran or the newcomer will win this year’s groundhog battle will be decided on March 20th, the first official day of spring.
Celebrated every February 2, Groundhog Day was started by German immigrants who came to Pennsylvania in the 18th and 19th centuries. Though there are now numerous weather-predicting groundhogs and other animals throughout the country, Punxsutawney Phil remains the most popular. The 133-year-old, who according to his handlers, owes his longevity to a magic potion, is world famous thanks to a prominent role in the 1993 movie, Groundhog Day.
Groundhogs, also called woodchucks, land beavers, or whistle pigs, are the largest members of the squirrel family. They typically measure between 17-27 inches long and can weigh as much as 8 pounds. The primarily herbivorous animals have a lifespan of between 6-8 years in the wild.
Happy Groundhog Day!
Resources: NPR.org, businessinsider.com, groundhog.org