Punxsutawney Phil, the world’s most beloved and furry seasonal prognosticator, saw his shadow on Monday morning (despite overcast skies), portending six more weeks of winter.
Last year, Phil also saw his shadow — the final nail in the coffin for what was one of the most brutally long winters in the U.S. The unrelenting winter dragged on through March in many places in 2014. Around D.C., many locations accumulated more than 30 inches of snow last winter, and Phil chalked another one up in the “verified” column.
While no one questions Phil’s dedication to the seasonal outlook, his accuracy is an enduring source of controversy.
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In 2013, Phil issued a forecast for an early spring, but bitter cold and snow gripped the eastern U.S. into March that year. 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.
This year, the forecast suggests this winter will be remembered for its duration more than its intensity. Temperatures, so far, have been running close to or slightly above average across the Lower 48. Does Phil sense a dramatic shift to come, favoring snow-lovers and ski bunnies? Only time will tell.
Since the groundhog’s first prediction in 1887, Phil has seen his shadow 102 times (including this year) and not seen it on just 17 occasions. There are nine missing years in the record, but Phil has issued a forecast without exception. 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.
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:
In Washington, D.C., Potomac Phil – a stuffed Groundhog — made his forecast at 7:30 a.m. in Dupont Circle.
Update, 10:55 a.m.: Potomac Phil saw his shadow.