Groundhog Day 2011: What did Punxsutawney Phil predict and is he right?

On chilly Feb. 2, Groundhog Day, the famous rodent emerges. If he sees his shadow, in front of his Pennsylvania audience, legend says winter will last another six weeks.

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Wednesday, February 2, 2011; 1:34 PM

Groundhog Day 2011 has arrived, and as Melissa Bell reported the country has their eyes on Punxsutawney Phil:

The news from Punxsutawney, Pa., this morning was just what we wanted to hear: Spring will come early this year, thanks to good old Phil predicting the winter, just as he's done for 125 years (longest living groundhog ever?).

For 125 years, the country has watched Punxsutawney Phil, a groundhog with a mission, crawl out of his burrow on Feb. 2. If he sees his shadow, boom, we're stuck with winter for six more weeks. If he doesn't, it means we've got only two more weeks to trudge through (and with the storms that have walloped the country this year, that's happy news).

But on Wednesday, National Geographic gave us a giant lesson on Phil that totally buried the lead: "Romans also believed that conditions during the first days of February were good predictors of future weather, but the empire looked to hedgehogs for their forecasts."

National Geographic was not the only one to spoil the fun, as Jason Samenow explained:

According to folklore, no shadow for Phil means "there will be an early spring" whereas had he seen his shadow, it would have signified six more weeks of winter.

Since the Groundhog's first prediction in 1887, Phil has seen his shadow 98 times and hasn't seen it 15 times. There are some missing years in the record, but Phil has issued a forecast without exception.

NOAA's National Climatic Data Center posted an analysis of the Groundhog's predictions and concluded "no predictive skill for the groundhog during the most recent years"...

Video: Punxsutawney Phil predicts an early spring

ComPost's Alexandra Petri gave her take on the tradition of Groundhog Day:

For those of you who have been holding your breath about this, you can stop now, although I urge you to take a moment to think about what this says about you, and to maybe apologize to your family and co-workers. Are that many calendars with inspirational daily messages a right or a privilege? Ask yourself this.

Groundhog Day could be viewed as a commentary on the nature of modern celebrity. A cute, hairy creature has become famous for doing something with minimal accuracy because he is surrounded by men in funny hats. Subtract two legs and a tail and that's the Justin Bieber narrative all over. Sure, Phil is only right 39 percent of the time, but that's more than Mel Gibson.

More from the Washington Post

StoryLab: Harold Ramis talks 'Groundhog Day'

Celebritology: Celebrating Groundhog Day, Bill Murray style

Day in Photos: Punxsutawney Phil, Cyclone Yasi and more


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