Those hoping for some respite from the powerful nor'easter that is currently pummeling the US East Coast and Mid-Atlantic with heavy snow and near-blizzard conditions are in for a disappointment. On February 2, 2021, aka Groundhog Day, legendary woodchuck Punxsutawney Phil observed his shadow. This — according to folklore — means that the frosty weather will remain with us for an additional six weeks.
The renowned groundhog's annual forecast was whispered into the ears of the members of his "inner circle" at Gobbler's Knob in the Pennsylvania Wilds. Shortly after the gloomy prediction was conveyed to the over 15,000 fans — who tuned in to watch the event online due to the coronavirus pandemic — one of Phil's handlers read a second, more uplifting, message from the groundhog. It stated: "After winter, you're looking forward to one of the most beautiful and brightest springs you've ever seen."
However, those hoping for an early spring should not despair. Phil’s most famous and credible rival — New York’s Staten Island Chuck — did not see his shadow, which, per groundhog lore, means that warm weather is around the corner. Canada's most famous groundhogs — Nova Scotia's Shubenacadie Sam and Quebec's Fred La Marmotte — also forecast an early spring.
So who should one trust? Given that Phil has been predicting the weather for over 135 years, he is the most experienced and — according to his fans — always accurate. However, human meteorologists beg to differ. An analysis by NOAA’s National Climatic Data Center indicates that in the past decade, the legendary groundhog has been right just 50% of the time. An examination of his record since 1887 shows an even lower accuracy rate. The groundhog also appears to see his shadow most years and has only forecast an early spring 20 times during his long, illustrious career.
Staten Island Chuck, who entered the profession in 1981, seems to have had more success and boasts an impressive 85% accuracy rate. Whether the veteran or the newcomer will win this year’s groundhog weather prediction battle will be determined on March 20th, 2021, the first official day of spring.
Inaccurate as he may be, Punxsutawney Phil remains the most popular of all the animal meteorologists that emerge to forecast the weather every year on Groundhog Day. The 135-year-old — who owes his longevity to a magic elixir — is also an international celebrity thanks to his starring role in the 1993 movie, Groundhog Day.
Also known as woodchucks, land beavers, or whistle pigs, groundhogs are the largest members of the squirrel family. They grow between 17 to 20 inches in length and can weigh as much as 13 pounds! With the exceptions of Phil and Chuck, the primarily herbivorous animals live between 6 to 8 years in the wild.
Resources: People.com, CBSnews.com, Guardian.com