Friday, at 7:25 am, Punxsutawney Phil, America’s most revered groundhog predicted that there will be six more weeks of winter, in a tradition known as Groundhog Day. Punxsutawney Phil made his prediction as the sun rose in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania to a crowd of freezing, but adoring fans.
Six more weeks of winter is unwelcome news for most of the US. The East Coast, where Punxsutawney Phil calls home, has faced a record breaking winter since Christmas with blizzards, a bomb cyclone, and some of the coldest weather on record.
According to tradition, if Punxsutawney Phil sees his shadow, he’ll run back into his hole, indicating that we can expect six more weeks of winter. If he does not, the people of Punxsutawney can sigh with relief; winter will soon be at an end.
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Groundhog Day is based on a superstition from the Dutch settlers of Pennsylvania. They believed that if a groundhog emerged from its den and saw its shadow, it would retreat back into its hole, indicating that the settlers could expect six more weeks of winter, bad news for the Pennsylvania Dutch farmers. This superstition is actually based on an earlier German folktale that pinned the badger as nature’s meteorologist, rather than the groundhog. The first celebrations of Groundhog Day were seen in Pennsylvania’s German communities, with the first record of a Groundhog Day like celebration coming from 1840.
The Groundhog Day tradition officially started in 1887. Since then, Phil has seen his shadow the majority of the time, 104 times to be exact. Only on 18 occasions did he predict an end to the chill. Although Phil makes a prediction every year, ten years are missing from the record.
Can Phil Be Trusted?
Meteorologists in Pennsylvania have so far agreed with Punxsutawney Phil’s prediction. They anticipate six more weeks of winter and an abnormally cold February for the East Coast. This year’s Super Bowl is expected to be the coldest on record. Luckily for fans and players it will be held within a dome.
Phil’s record is less than ideal, however. Last Groundhog Day, Phil predicted six more weeks of winter, but spring arrived earlier than normal, with one of the warmest Februarys on record. In 2016, Phil accurately predicted an early spring. Spring came early in 2016, thanks to a super El Nino.
Different meteorological associations debate Phil’s accuracy. According to Pennsylvania based AccuWeather, Phil is correct 80% of the time. StormFax Almanac disagrees, claiming that the groundhog is only correct 39% of the time, a pretty bad record considering he should have a 50-50 chance at guessing.
Punxsutawney Phil isn’t the only groundhog with a passion for meteorology. This Groundhog Day, groundhogs across the US and Canada will issue their predictions. So far, Milltown Mel in New Jersey has disagreed with Phil’s estimation, predicting instead an early spring. No doubt the two groundhogs will share a heated, but friendly debate
Phil also has a Washington D.C. counterpart, Potomac Phil. Regrettably, Potomac Phil is long dead, but his taxidermied remains are still said to make predictions each year in DuPont Circle. If Potomac Phil sees his shadow, D.C. can expect to see six more weeks of political gridlock.
Potomac Phil’s weather predictions always coincide with that of Punxsutawney Phil, leading to accusations of collusion between the two groundhogs, something Potomac Phil’s handlers have denied. This year, Potomac Phil predicted six more weeks of political gridlock, a prediction few political analysts can disagree with. He has yet to predict an end to the gridlock, and has so far never been proven wrong.
Phil’s “Inner Circle”
Phil’s handlers claim the same groundhog has made the prediction each year since the tradition started. That 15 times longer than the lifespan of an average groundhog. While Pennsylvania claims to have a seemingly immortal groundhog, the original Milltown Mel passed away in 2015; a close friend took over the name and responsibilities.
Phil is cared for by a group of men known as the “inner circle.” These men are not only Phil’s caretakers year round, they also plan the week long festivities that surround Groundhog Day. You may see them on Groundhog Day dressed in tuxedos and top hats. The inner circle reports that Phil can communicate with the president of the circle through a secret language. They also claim to have kept Phil so young and spritely through a secret drink called “groundhog punch.”
Phil lives in Gobbler’s Knob, just outside of the town of Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania. People have been making the trek to the knob to consult Phil since 1887. Since then the celebrations have expanded into a week long festival and a beloved tradition across the US and Canada. Up to 40,000 people gather in the small town of Punxsutawney each year to hear Phil’s prediction.