Punxsutawney Phil, the world’s most famous furry forecaster, failed to see his shadow Tuesday morning, meaning spring is right around the corner, or so the folklore says.
The groundhog’s prediction came about 7:25 a.m. in Punxsutawney, Pa., with fair skies and temperatures in the mid-20s.
If this winter’s days truly are numbered, it will be remembered for both its mildness and brevity. Since December, most of the Lower 48 have experienced above-normal temperatures — the Blizzard of 2016 on Jan. 22-24, also known as Snowzilla, notwithstanding.
But before packing away your winter coats, consider the last time the rodent called for an early spring in 2013, punishing cold and snow gripped the eastern United States deep into March. The prosecuting attorney in Butler County, Ohio, went so far as to seek the death penalty for Phil for “misrepresentation of early spring.” But then a Pennsylvania law firm came to Phil’s defense, claiming the Ohio attorney had no jurisdiction to prosecute the groundhog.
Sources have long presented conflicting information on the groundhog’s accuracy.
Phil’s official website claims he has “of course” issued a correct forecast 100 percent of the time. But NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information notes that Phil’s forecasts have shown “no predictive skill” in recent years.
Since his first prediction in 1887, Phil has seen his shadow 102 times and not seen it on just 18 occasions, including this year. Nine years are missing from the record, but Phil has issued a forecast without exception.
NOAA says Groundhog Day originated as a celebration of the midpoint 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 regions of North America where other beloved rodents make their predictions, including:
- Atlanta: General Beau Lee
- Ontario: Wiarton Willie
- Raleigh: Sir Walter Wally
- Sun Prairie, Wis.: Jimmy
- New York: Staten Island Chuck
- Birmingham, Ala.: Birmingham Bill
- Washington, D.C.: Potomac Phil, a stuffed groundhog
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