Punxsutawney Phil is the world's most famous groundhog. But why do we look to a groundhog for a weather prediction at the beginning of every February?
It is believed that the Germans who settled in Pennsylvania brought this legend with them when they immigrated to America, with the saying:
For as the sun shines on Candlemas Day,
So far will the snow swirl until the May.
Candlemas Day is February 2, the midpoint between winter solstice and spring equinox. The German settlers looked to animals such as badgers to see if they could declare the day sunny. If the animal could see its shadow and returned to its hole, it is regarded as an omen of six more weeks of bad weather. If the day is cloudy and no shadow is created, it takes it as a sign of spring and stays above ground. The settlers eventually established the groundhog to be the specific forecaster.
But it wasn't until 1887 that Groundhog Day was an official holiday, even in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania. Today, the yearly celebration is presided over by local dignitaries who wear top hats and speak with a Pennsylvania Dutch dialect, calling it "Groundhogese." Up to 30,000 people descend on the little town of Punxsutawney for the event. The legend continues, claiming Punxsutawney Phil is more than 125 years old, thanks to the magical punch he imbibes every summer.
But Puxsutawney Phil is only about 40% accurate. While it is true that sunny winter days are associated with colder air, it does not correlate with the oncoming of spring. In fact, groundhogs only come above ground in February to look for a mate, not for weather predictions. It isn't until March that they truly come out of hibernation.
A lack of accuracy has not deterred Punxsutawney Phil from the celebrity lifestyle. He has hobnobbed with famous people, such as Ronald Reagan and Oprah Winfrey. He has even had a movie named after him. Phil has also taken up various causes, demanding the end of Prohibition and wearing a yellow ribbon for the hostages in Iran. Punxsutawney Phil's accuracy is so poor, other states now have their own groundhog predicting the future of winter. For example, Connecticut has Chuckles and, while her predictions are not always the same as Punxsutawney Phil, her accuracy is just as poor.
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Happy Groundhog Day,
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