Early this morning, thousands of people gathered at Gobbler's Knob, Pennsylvania, to witness Punxsutawney Phil make his annual weather prediction. Those hoping to get relief from this year's bitterly cold winter were disappointed.
The legendary groundhog carefully surveyed his surroundings. He then conveyed his prediction to one of his handlers. "I see a shadow on my stage, and so no matter how you measure, it's six more weeks of winter weather."
However, Phil's main rival, New York's Staten Island Chuck, did not concur with the prediction. The plump woodchuck missed seeing his shadow. This means that spring will come early. Spring is considered early if most days from Groundhog Day to the March equinox have a temperature of at least 40°F (4°C).
So who should people trust? With over a century of predictions, Phil is certainly more experienced. However, NOAA's National Climatic Data Center cautions that Phil has been right just four times in the past ten years. An examination of his record since 1887 suggests an even lower, 39 percent accuracy rate. Meanwhile, Staten Island Chuck, who has been forecasting the weather since 1981, has been right about 80 percent of the time.
Groundhog Day was started by German settlers who came to Pennsylvania in the 18th and 19th centuries. Many groundhogs, and even an armadillo in Texas, have joined the fun tradition, which is celebrated annually on February 2nd. But Phil, who has been forecasting the weather since 1887, is the most famous. A website dedicated to the groundhog credits his long life to a magic potion he drinks every summer.
Groundhogs are the largest members of the squirrel family. They are also called woodchucks, land beavers, or whistle pigs. The critters grow between 16 to 26 inches (40.6 to 66cm) in length and weigh up to 15 pounds (6.8 kilos). Except for Phil and Chuck, the largely herbivorous animals have a lifespan of about eight years in the wild.
Happy Groundhog Day!
Resources: NPR.org, CNN.com, Groundhog.org