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Groundhog Day 2014: Punxsutawney Phil sees shadow, 6 more weeks of winter

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At 7:25 a.m. Sunday, a raw, cloudy and damp morning, Groundhog Phil saw his shadow in the small town of Punxsutawney, Pa.

The appearance of Phil’s shadow means winter will extend well into March  according to folklore. Had Phil not seen his shadow, it would have meant spring is around the corner.

Phil’s prediction may depress residents in the eastern U.S., weary from repeated outbreaks of arctic air.

Since the Groundhog’s first prediction in 1887 (through 2013), Phil has seen his shadow 100 times and not seen it on just 17 occasions. There are nine missing years in the record, but Phil has issued a forecast without exception.

No one questions Phil’s dedication to prognostication, but his accuracy is an unending source of controversy.

Last Groundhog Day, Phil did not see his shadow, a supposed harbinger of an early spring.  Yet, bitter cold and snow affected the eastern U.S. deep into March.  The prosecuting attorney in Butler County, Ohio went as far as to seek the death penalty for Phil for “misrepresentation of early spring” before a Pennsylvania law firm came to Phil’s defense, claiming the Ohio attorney had no jurisdiction to prosecute the Groundhog.

Phil’s official Web site says he has “of course” issued a correct forecast 100 percent of the time. But NOAA’s National Climatic Data Center says Phil’s forecasts have shown “no predictive skill” in recent years. AccuWeather finds the rodent has an 80 percent accuracy rate.

Infographic: Groundhog Day fun facts (AccuWeather)

As for the present, AccuWeather half agrees and half disagrees with the Groundhog – calling for a 50/50 split in winter and spring conditions in the U.S. in the coming weeks. Winter will not loosen its harsh grip over the North, it forecasts, while spring will come early in the South.

NOAA, like AccuWeather, is predicting better chances of colder than normal conditions in the North compared to the South.

NOAA says Groundhog Day originated as an ancient celebration of the mid-point between the winter solstice and spring equinox.

“Superstition has it that fair weather [at this midpoint] was seen as forbearance of a stormy and cold second half to winter,” NOAA writes in its summary of Groundhog Day background and folklore.

Groundhog Day-like celebrations are held in several other regions of North America where other furry rodents make their predictions, including:

* Atlanta, Georgia: General Beau Lee
* Ontario, Canada: Wiarton Willie
* Raleigh, North Carolina: Sir Walter Wally
* Sun Prarie, Wisconsin: Jimmy
* Staten Island, New York: Chuck
* Birmingham, Alabama: Birmingham Bill

In Washington, D.C., Potomac Phil – a stuffed Groundhog – makes his forecast in Dupont Circle at 8 a.m.

Link: Potomac Phil on Facebook

Punxsutawney Phil emerged from his burrow on Sunday morning at about 7:20, saw his shadow and predicted a longer winter. (Video: Reuters)