This past weekend's brutal winter storms brought record snowfall and caused widespread power outages across much of the US East Coast. However, those hoping for an early spring are in for a disappointment. On February 2, aka Groundhog Day, America's furriest weather predictor extraordinaire, Punxsutawney Phil, saw his shadow and forecasted six more weeks of winter.
As is the case every year, thousands of fans gathered at Gobbler's Knob in the Pennsylvania Wilds to witness the renowned woodchuck's prediction. The festivities began at 3:00 am with a party, which included live music, dance performances, and an elaborate fireworks show. At sunrise, two tuxedo-clad members of the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club carefully pulled out the sleepy woodchuck from his burrow. Phil surveyed his surroundings and conveyed his prediction to the club's president in "Groundhogese."
The groundhog said, "Winter has been bleak and dark and bereft of hope. Yet winter is just another step in the cycle of life. As I look out over the faces of the true believers from around the world, I bask in the warmth of your hearts. I couldn't imagine a better fate, with my shadow I have cast, than a long and lustrous six more weeks of winter."
But just as Phil was proclaiming a longer winter, New York's Staten Island Chuck missed seeing his shadow and declared that spring was around the corner. Canada's three most famous weather-predicting groundhogs were also in disagreement. Nova Scotia's Shubenacadie Sam, who has been forecasting the weather since 1987, and Quebec's Fred la marmotte forecast a longer winter. However, Ontario's Wiarton Willie agrees with Chuck and thinks spring is almost here.
So who should people trust? With over a century of predictions under his belt, Phil is definitely more experienced. However, while the folks at Punxsutawney assert the woodchuck is rarely wrong, human weather forecasters beg to differ. An analysis by NOAA's National Climatic Data Center indicates that the legendary groundhog has been right just 40 percent of the time over the past 10 years. An examination of his record since 1887 suggests an even lower 39 percent accuracy rate. On the other hand, Staten Island Chuck, who has been making predictions since 1981, has a verified accuracy rate of over 80 percent!
Celebrated annually on February 2, Groundhog Day was started by German settlers in Pennsylvania in the 18th century. There are now many weather-predicting groundhogs and even an armadillo in Texas. However, Punxsutawney Phil — the "Seer of Seers" — is the most famous. Thanks to his starring role in the 1993 movie "Groundhog Day," the ancient critter is known worldwide.
Groundhogs are the largest members of the squirrel family. They are also called woodchucks, land beavers, or whistle pigs. The primarily herbivorous animals grow between 17-26 inches in length and weigh up to 12 pounds. Except for Phil, who is purportedly kept alive by a magic potion, they have a lifespan of between 6 and 8 years in the wild.
Happy Groundhog Day!
Resources: groundhog.org, CNN.com, Cnet.com