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  Groundhog's Forecast: Early Spring

Handler Bill Dealy holds Punxsutawney Phil, who greets visitors to his burrow on Gobblers Knob in Punxsutawney, Pa., at sunrise Tuesday. (AP)
By David Kinney
Associated Press Writer
Tuesday, February 2, 1999; 8:14 a.m. EST

PUNXSUTAWNEY, Pa. Thousands of winter-weary people who waited through a rainy night were rewarded this morning: Groundhog Punxsutawney Phil didn't see his shadow.

That means, according to legend, that spring is just around the corner.

A cheer went up as members of the local Groundhog Day club made the announcement, shortly after dawn. If Phil had seen his shadow, it would have meant six more weeks of winter.

"We will feel winter's wrath, but spring is coming," said Bill Cooper, president of the Inner Circle, the club that stages the annual midwinter festival.

It was the same cheery news if you believe in such things in Lilburn, Ga., where Georgia's groundhog forecaster, Gen. Beauregard Lee, also failed to see his shadow. Cloudy skies kept shadows away when the 9-year-old rodent came out of his small mansion at 7:34 a.m., said Ruth Letowsky, a spokeswoman for the Yellow River Game Ranch, where Gen. Lee lives.

The Groundhog Day tradition is rooted in a German superstition that if an animal casts a shadow on Feb. 2 the Christian holiday of Candlemas bad weather is coming.

But in the 110 years since German farmers began the festival in Punxsutawney, the morning of Feb. 2 has evolved into an elaborate show of hoodwinkery.

In years past, members of the club voted the night before whether or not Phil would see his shadow, rain or shine. Despite overcast skies last year, the club announced the shadow appeared. They set off fireworks to simulate a sunrise.

This year, club members insisted, they did not decide what Phil's decision would be until they actually approached his burrow.

An announcement this morning estimated the crowd at just 15,000. Bad weather and a Groundhog Day in the middle of the week kept attendance down, but the crowd was full of enthusiasm for Phil.

Mike Simmons made a four-hour trip from the town of Tunkhannock to be here. Asked why, he said: "I have no idea. For the absurdity?"

"It's something unusual," offered his friend, Sandra Peoples of Scranton. "Something you can say you did once."

"And only once," added Simmons's wife, Jackie.

© Copyright 1999 The Associated Press

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