Groundhog Day: Punxsutawney Phil spots shadow, forecasts 6 more weeks of winter

Official Groundhog Handler Ben Hughes holds Punxsutawney Phil after Phil made his annual Groundhog Day prediction on Gobbler’s Knob in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, February 2, 2011. REUTERS/ Jason Cohn

Hang on to your warm furry hats.

Punxsutawney Phil, the world’s most celebrated groundhog, gazed at the ground and beheld his shadow Friday morning. This means six more weeks of frigid winter if you trust the weather forecasting skills of this oversized rodent.

Had the mangy marmot not spotted his shadow, it would have signaled spring is around the corner, folklore assures.

The groundhog crawled out of his hole to issue his prediction just before 7:25 a.m. as the sun rose at Gobbler’s Knob in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania. How he managed to see his shadow with clouds blocking the sun is a bit of a mystery. Thousands of merry witnesses watched the spectacle, unfazed by the biting wind, blowing snow and bone-chilling temperatures in the teens.

Since his first prediction in 1887, Phil has spotted his shadow 104 times, counting this year, while it has eluded him on just 18 occasions. Ten years are missing from the record, but Phil has issued forecasts without exception.

If this winter endures well into March as Phil predicts, it will be remembered for the intensity and duration of cold weather. The brutal Arctic blast in the eastern U.S. between Christmas and the first week of the new year may most stand out, culminating in the “bomb cyclone” at the coast. In many areas, it was the most frigid stretch of weather surrounding New Year’s in recorded history.

The groundhog’s prognostication is supported by forecasters endowed with somewhat larger brains; that is, actual meteorologists. The prediction from AccuWeather, the private forecasting company based in State College, Pennsylvania, is also calling for winter to persist another six weeks.

“Boston to New York City and Philadelphia may see snow a few more times before the end of the season,” says AccuWeather long-range forecaster Paul Pastelok.

The National Weather Service also suggests winter is far from done in the northern and northeastern United States, where it favors colder-than-normal weather in February. It does lean toward abnormally mild weather in the West, so perhaps Phil is wrong about extended winter in that part of the country.

If the question of Phil’s track record is gnawing at you, the success of his recent predictions is decidedly mixed.

Last year, Phil predicted six more weeks of winter and spring arrived as early as it has in memory. Flower stems sprouted in Chicago in late February and nearly all the ice on the Great Lakes melted away. It turned into the second-warmest February and ninth-warmest March on record for the Lower 48.

But Phil should be credited for making the correct call in 2016 when he predicted an early spring. That year there was a super El Niño, a warming of tropical Pacific Ocean waters, that pumped up temperatures over much of the country.

Over the long haul, few can agree on the groundhog’s accuracy.

Phil’s official website claims he has “of course” issued a correct forecast 100 percent of the time. But the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration notes that Phil’s forecasts have shown “no predictive skill”.

AccuWeather finds the rodent has an 80 percent accuracy rate. But the StormFax Almanac reports that Phil has been right a lowly 39 percent of the time.

The origins of Groundhog Day are traced back to the 1700s when German settlers arrived in the United States, bringing a tradition known as Candlemas Day, a celebration of the midpoint between the winter solstice and spring equinox. About a century later, it was reimagined as Groundhog Day. “According to superstition, sunny skies that day signify a stormy and cold second half of winter while cloudy skies indicate the arrival of warm weather,” explains NOAA’s website.

In essence, one can now think of Feb. 2 as a winter halftime show starring Phil and his forecast.

But Phil doesn’t own the stage. Groundhog Day-like festivities are held in several regions of North America where other beloved marmots make their predictions, including:

Georgia: General Beau Lee

Ohio: Buckeye Chuck

Ontario: Wiarton Willie

Raleigh: Sir Walter Wally

Sun Prairie, Wisconsin.: Jimmy

New York: Staten Island Chuck

Birmingham, Alabama.: Birmingham Bill

Washington.: Potomac Phil, a stuffed groundhog

The official website of Punxsutawney Phil counters he is the “only true weather forecasting groundhog” and that the others are “just impostors.”



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