There will be six more weeks of winter, Punxsutawney Phil predicted as he emerged from his burrow this morning to perform his Groundhog Day duties.
It was 30 years ago when the movie Groundhog Day came out, yet it must seem like yesterday for the die-hards who anxiously await this annual prognosticator.
About 20,000 visitors gathered at Gobbler’s Knob, Pennsylvania—about 65 miles northeast of Pittsburg—as members of Punxsutawney Phil’s inner circle summoned him from his tree stump at dawn to learn if he had seen his shadow, a message they said Phil communicated in groundhogese. After Phil’s prediction was announced, the crowd repeatedly chanted six more weeks!
According to folklore, spring would come early if he didn’t see it.
Winter lovers can rejoice as the legendary Punxsutawney Phil saw his shadow on this Groundhog Day which means spring won’t be arriving early in 2023. And while it may seem silly to take Phil’s word for it, it turns out the majority of Americans are more likely to trust a rodent than their local meteorologist.
That’s according to a recent OnePoll survey of 2,000 U.S. adults which reveals that 58 percent agree that whether or not Punxsutawney Phil sees his shadow on Groundhog Day determines if there will be six more weeks of winter. Moreover, more than one in four Americans “strongly agree” with this statement. Three in five believe Phil more than meteorologists, hmm.
Since COVID-19 has changed the world so drastically over the last three years, maybe it’s okay to have this one nice thing to enjoy every year—unless you hate winter, too!
Punxsutawney Phil’s predictions date back to 1887. Of course, since the average lifespan of a groundhog is about six years, the name is really attached to a monolithic organization of different groundhogs that trot out once a year in Gobbler’s Knob to perform their duty.
In the words of Phil Connors from Harold Ramis’ 1993 movie Groundhog Day, “When Chekhov saw the long winter, he saw a winter bleak and dark and bereft of hope. Yet we know that winter is just another step in the cycle of life. But standing here among the people of Punxsutawney and basking in the warmth of their hearths and hearts, I couldn’t imagine a better fate than a long and lustrous winter.”
Anyway, Phil did see his shadow this morning—which means he was scared of his shadow and has run back inside his den and pronounced six more weeks of winter.
Punxsutawney Phil may be the most famous groundhog seer but he’s certainly not the only one. Groundhog Day celebrations are major events in other parts of North America.
In Canada, similar celebrations are held with Ontario’s clairvoyant rodent Wiarton Willie, Nova Scotia’s Shubenacadie Sam, and Quebec’s designated oracle groundhog Fred la Marmotte. Willie is the successor to the original Wiarton Willy who died in 2018.
Fred made his prediction in Val-d’Espoir, Quebec, on the eastern edge of the Gaspé Peninsula. This Fred is still new to predicting—organizers call him Fred Junior. The previous Fred has retired.
The Groundhog Day ritual may have something to do with February 2 landing midway between winter solstice and spring equinox, but no one knows for sure.
The annual event may have its origin in a German legend about a furry rodent. Some say the tradition can be traced to Greek mythology or it could have started with Candlemas, a Christian custom named for the lighting of candles during the feast of the Purification of the Virgin Mary.
One Scottish couplet summed up the superstition: “If Candlemas Day is bright and clear, there’ll be two winters in the year.”
In medieval Europe, farmers believed that if hedgehogs emerged from their burrows to catch insects, it was a sure sign of an early spring.
However, when Europeans settled in eastern North America, the groundhog was substituted for the hedgehog.
On Canada’s West Coast in British Columbia, they now call on marmots like Van Island Violet who lives on Mount Washington. Like groundhogs, marmots are a type of large ground squirrel. But, like the yellow-bellied marmots of Vernon, Violet tends to be asleep on February 2; therefore, she cannot see her shadow.
This makes sense of course and highlights a danger of asking a groundhog in the first place. More winter just means a sleep-in for the marmots and who doesn’t like to sleep in?
In general, rodents don’t have a great track record when it comes to long-term forecasting.
In his book, The Day Niagara Falls Ran Dry, climatologist David Phillips cites a survey of 40 years of weather data from 13 Canadian cities which concluded that there were an equal number of cloudy and sunny days on February 2. During that time, the groundhogs’ predictions were right only 37 per cent of the time.
There are other pseudo Phils: Manitoba’s Merv is a puppet while Alberta’s Balzac Billy is a six-foot tall sunglass wearing mascot who uses his thumb to check for a shadow. Known as the Prairie Prognosticator, the groundhog signals a thumbs down if he sees his shadow or thumbs up for no shadow and an early spring.
Meanwhile, Winnipeg Wyn is a fortune-telling ambassador groundhog at Prairie Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre. Instead of watching to see if Wyn sees her shadow, the rehabilitation centre said it bases its prediction on her behavior which is a more reliable indicator.
Whether it’s about giving us hope or really just celebrating an animal that we don’t celebrate very often, I think it’s wonderful. And, if it gets people outside for just a few minutes then that’s awesome!
Always maintain a kind of summer, even in the middle of winter.
—Henry David Thoreau