In just a few days, Punxsutawney Phil—arguably the world’s most famous groundhog—will emerge from his burrow to make his annual prediction as to whether winter weather is here to stay, or if spring is in the air.
Groundhog Day is celebrated across the United States and Canada on February 2. The first official Groundhog Day celebration took place on February 2, 1887, in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania. The celebration was the brainchild of local newspaper editor Clymer Freas, who convinced a group of businessmen and groundhog hunters to back his idea. The men traveled to a site known as Gobbler’s Knob, where the inaugural groundhog became the bearer of bad news when he saw his shadow.
Groundhogs, also known as woodchucks, belong to a group of large ground squirrels known as marmots. They grow up to 25 inches long and can live up to 10 years in captivity. The animals spend the winter hibernating in their burrows. When they emerge, they spend their time eating plants, wild berries, and insects.
As the legend goes, on February 2, the groundhog comes out of hole after winter hibernation to look for its shadow. If the groundhog sees his shadow the legend foretells ”six more weeks of bad weather,” and thus a lingering winter. But spring is not far if he does not see his shadow. The groundhog will retreat back into his hole if the weather is bad, but will stay above ground if spring is near.
These days, Punxsutawney festivities are presided over by a band of local dignitaries known as the Inner Circle. During the ceremony Inner Circle members wear top hats and conduct the proceedings in the Pennsylvania Dutch dialect.
Don’t trade in your local meteorologist on a groundhog just yet! Recent studies of the National Climatic Data Center and the Canadian Weather Service have found that the animals only have about a 40 percent success rate for weather prediction.