It’s Feb. 2, which means an entourage of middle-aged men in tuxedos and top hats plucked a rodent out of a box on a stage and let it whisper into their ears the secrets of the atmosphere. They held the overfed woodchuck high above their heads and lifted their eyes to the sky.
What, Punxsutawney Phil, does the weather hold in store?
Early spring, he said.
It brings me no joy to report this as “news,” to pander to a privileged marmot. But when Phil speaks, we report. Why? Because it’s what the people want. They don’t have to be explicit; we hear what they say when the groundhog is the highest trending topic on Feb. 2, and when they turn the TV on right before Phil is scheduled to appear onstage.
It’s the longest-running syndicated rerun show in America, and it has only two episodes. We know them both by heart.
Phil, or some version of him, has been predicting the weather since 1887. He goes with “six more weeks of winter” 85 percent of the time, probably because on Feb. 2, there really are six more weeks of winter, you know, seasonally speaking.
At first it’s kind of funny, being a meteorologist on Groundhog Day. It’s like a holiday for weather people (except the furry weather person representing you that day has a brain the size of a golf ball and occasionally bites the mayors of major cities).
Plus, the little critter is cute and you grew up watching him get pulled out of his hidey hole every year. You joke about how an obese groundpig gets more attention on one day than all of your forecasts could, combined, for all of February. It’s even been on Oprah.
Then, after years of writing about shadows and lights and lore, the true terror of the second day of the second month of the year starts to creep in — the rage and self-loathing that must have existed simultaneously within Bill Murray’s character in “Groundhog Day.” And that’s before the time loop that traps him in the worst day of his life for eternity.
That movie isn’t comedy. It’s horror.
Despite all this, the thing that worries me isn’t that people care about the groundhog. It is certainly an annual tradition, and it’s not like Groundhog Day is going anywhere.
What worries me is that people hear the groundhog said “early spring” and they might actually believe there is truth in it.