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Last week’s record-breaking cold snap, which brought many US cities to a standstill, finally ended on February 2, 2019. Residents all the way from southern New England to the Upper Midwest breathed a sigh of relief as temperatures rose to a “balmy” mid-40s and low 50 degrees Fahrenheit. Even better, that same day, world-famous groundhog Punxsutawney Phil failed to see his shadow, which means that spring is a mere six weeks away!
As is the case each year, over 20,000 fans braved the below-freezing predawn temperatures at Gobbler's Knob in the Pennsylvania Wilds to watch the renowned woodchuck make his 133rd weather prediction. The festivities began at 3:00 am with a party, which included stage performances from musicians and dancers as well as an elaborate fireworks show. At sunrise, two tuxedo-clad members of the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club unlocked the door of the woodchuck’s tree trunk and carefully pulled him out. After surveying his surroundings, Phil conveyed his prediction to the club’s president, the only person who can understand Groundhogese.
The crowd waited anxiously as the president whispered the forecast to the vice president, who read the following message from the groundhog: “Down in my burrow on long winter nights, I listen to tunes to keep my mind right. From Motown to country to rap, even Bach, there’s Aretha and Elvis; yeah, The Beatles rock. And your cheers at The Knob really give me a thrill, everyone singing to the world, “Phil! Phil! Phil!” But predicting the weather, that’s my song; for 133 years, I’ve never been wrong. So, is it early spring or more winter forecast? Stop the music, here is my forecast. Faithful followers, there is no shadow of me — a beautiful spring, it shall be.”
While the audience roared with joy, meteorologists were not as convinced by the prediction. That’s because though Phil and his fans assert that he is never wrong, the experts at NOAA’s National Climatic Data Center beg to differ. Their analysis indicates that in the past decade, the legendary groundhog has been right just 40% of the time. An examination of his record since 1887 shows an even lower 39% accuracy rate. However, given that 2019 is only the 19th time Phil has foreseen an early spring since he began his career, he may prove the skeptics wrong. Besides, his cross-state rival, New York’s Staten Island Chuck, who has an undisputed 80% accuracy rate over his 35-year forecasting career, is predicting an early spring as well.
Groundhog Day, celebrated across North America every February 2nd, was started by German immigrants who arrived in Pennsylvania in the 18th and 19th centuries. Though there are now numerous weather-predicting groundhogs, and other animals, Punxsutawney Phil, who is purportedly being kept alive by a magic potion, remains the most popular. The critter is also an international celebrity thanks to his starring role in the 1993 movie Groundhog Day.
Groundhogs, also called woodchucks, land beavers, or whistle pigs, are the largest members of the squirrel family. They grow between 17-26 inches in length and can weigh up to 4 pounds. With the exceptions of Phil and Chuck, the primarily herbivorous animals have a lifespan of between 6-8 years in the wild.
Resources: NPR.org, NOAA.gov, CNN.com, visitpa.com, punxsutawneyspirit.com