Groundhog Day 2012: Punxsutawney Phil shadow means 6 more weeks of winter

February 2, 2012

Groundhog Day is upon us, and Americans tuned in from around the country Thursday morning to watch Punxsutawney Phil see his shadow, which means six more weeks of winter. As Jason Samenow reported:

At 7:25 a.m. this morning, amidst mostly cloudy skies, and temperatures in the low 30s, Groundhog Phil saw his shadow in the little town of Punxsutawney, Pa.

According to folklore, Phil’s sighting of his own shadow means there will be 6 more weeks of winter. Had Phil not seen his shadow, it would have meant “there will be an early spring.”

If Phil’s forecast is right, it signals a dramatic reversal from the mild weather pattern affecting much of the country. Many parts of the central and eastern U.S. have seen temperatures 20 to 30 degrees above normal in recent days. On February 1, just 19% of the Lower 48 had snow cover compared to 52% at this time last year.

Historic odds heavily favor a forecast for winter to last deep into March. Since the Groundhog’s first prediction in 1887, Phil has seen his shadow 99 times and failed to spot it just 16 times. There are 9 missing years in the record, but Phil has issued a forecast without exception.

But just how accurate is the prognosticator of prognosticators?

It depends on the source.

The official Web site of Punxsutawney Phil, perhaps not impartial, claims the Groundhog has issued a correct forecast 100% of the time.

AccuWeather’s grade for the groundhog’s accuracy is slightly lower, but still quite respectable.

While Phil’s prediction generates national headlines very year, some watchers decry the use of a groundhog to make predictions about seasonal weather. As Alexandra Petri wrote in the satire blog ComPost:

Well, it happened.

Punxsutawney Phil saw his shadow. And now we’ve got six more weeks of winter on our hands.

But what does he know?

He’s a groundhog, for Pete’s sake. How can he tell if winter will endure or spring will appear?

Then again, Americans spend a lot of their time listening to hairy individuals making predictions that they are in no way qualified to make. Were that not the case, most AM radio hosts would be out of a job. Cable television would go dark.

I’m down on the whole human side of prognostication after months of being told that the GOP race was in its final two-candidate stage every time a butterfly flapped its wings somewhere in the Andes or Ron Paul blinked especially hard. Six weeks of winter pale in comparison to the prospect of four more months of Gingrich. That’s the sort of shadow that makes you want to return to your burrow, never to reemerge.

What’s Punxsutawney say about the race? He probably knows as much as anyone.

Washington D.C.’s winter prognosticator, Potomac Phil agreed with his fellow groundhog in a ceremony in Dupont Circle about an hour after Phil’s prediction. As Maggie Fazeli Fard reported :

In case Punxsutawney Phil’s word wasn’t quite good enough, we now have confirmation from his D.C. brother: Six more weeks of winter.

Potomac Phil, the taxidermied critter who made his debut at the District’s inaugural Groundhog Day celebration Thursday morning, saw his shadow about 8:40 a.m. in Dupont Circle.

His divination came more than an hour after Punxsutawney Phil saw his shadow on Gobbler’s Knob in Pennsylvania.

According to groundhog lore, if Phil sees his shadow, we have to endure winter a little longer.

Despite the prediction, there was no sign of wintry weather as five dozen or so revelers gathered at the fountain in Dupont Circle.

Drawn in by the sound of pre-recorded polka music and the promise of free, groundhog-shaped cookies, adults and children alike danced, posed for pictures and even played with a groundhog puppet.

More from The Washington Post

A Groundhog Day pollen report: 6 more weeks of sneezing

Groundhog Day, explained

Winter of our disconnect

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