According to folklore, a groundhog's behavior can predict the weather. A sunny day that allows the groundhog to see his shadow will send him scurrying back into his burrow, a sign of six more weeks of winter. A cloudy and therefore shadowless day is a sign of spring encouraging the groundhog to stay above ground.
The legend dates to early German settlers in Pennsylvania, who had a tradition that if the sun shone on Candlemas Day -celebrated on Feb. 2 in recognition of Christ's presentation at the Temple - the snow would swirl in May. The early settlers adopted groundhogs, which were plentiful in the area, as harbingers of the tale.
The country's most famous groundhog is Punxsutawney Phil of Pennsylvania.
According to the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club, Punxsutawney held its first Groundhog Day Celebration on Feb. 2, 1887. The famous groundhog - there's been only one, according to club members, who credit secret "groundhog punch" for the creature's longevity - was originally named Br'er Groundhog but renamed Punxsutawney Phil after the British King Phillip.
Among Phil's more famous pronouncements was one made during anti-liquor days of prohibition, when the groundhog threatened to impose 60 weeks of winter if he wasn't allowed a drink. In 1958, Phil announced it was a "United States Chucknik," rather than a Soviet Sputnik, that became the first man-made satellite to orbit the Earth. In 1981, he donned a yellow ribbon in honor of the American hostages held in Iran.
In 1993, Columbia Pictures released the movie "Groundhog Day," starring Bill Murray, propelling the Pennsylvania town and its most famous resident into the popular culture more than ever.
Tens of thousands of people flock to Punxsutawney each year to see Phil emerge from his burrow. After he comes out, he shares his findings with the Groundhog Club President (in groundhog-ese, of course) who then tells the world, club members said.
While Punxsutawney Phil is the most famous groundhog, there are other weather-predicting animals around the country. Chattanooga, Tennessee has "Chattanooga Chuck," Dunkirk, New York has "Dunkirk Dave," and Asheville, North Carolina has "Nibbles."
|Punxsutawney Phil will make his Groundhog's Day prediction tomorrow. (Contributed photo/Punxsutawney Groundhog Club)|
Groundhog Day 2017: What you need to know about Punxsutawney Phil and his predictions
Groundhog Day falls right in the middle of the winter solstice and the spring equinox. On this day, Thursday Feb. 2, 2017, notable groundhog Punxsutawney Phil will give us his prediction on whether we'll have to slog it out for another six weeks of winter or whether we can look forward to an early spring.
As you get ready for his prediction, we've prepared a few fun facts about Groundhog Day that you may not have already known.
When was the first Groundhog Day?
Feb. 2, 1887.
Who is Punxsutawney Phil?
Punxsutawney Phil is America's most famous groundhog. He's also the first and official forecasting critter.
Phil was named by Clymer H. Freas, editor of the Punxsutawney Spirit newspaper, after being inspired by a local hunting group he called the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club. The group would go up to Gobbler's Knob, Pa., to find out whether winter would linger on.
And because Freas would write elaborate stories about the predictions, everyone started looking to Phil to announce when spring would arrive.
Oh, and for the record -- his full name is Punxsutawney Phil, Seer of Seers, Sage of Sages, Prognosticator of Prognosticators and Weather Prophet Extraordinary.
How does the whole Groundhog Day thing work?
If Phil comes out of his little burrow and sees his shadow, there will be six more weeks of winter. If he doesn't see his shadow, then it's time for spring!
Each year, Phil will relay his prediction to the head of the Inner Circle, the group of men in charge of feeding and taking care of Phil -- they're the guys with the big top hats. The president will then announce it to everyone gathered.
Wait a minute. Just how old is Phil?
He's 130 years old this year. He takes a potion every summer -- a Groundhog Punch -- that extends his lifeline by seven years. And no, the punch doesn't work for humans.
Anything else I should know about Phil?
When he's not hibernating or predicting the weather, Phil lives in the town library...with his wife Phyllis. He's also an avid traveler and has a fan base that includes celebrities and American presidents.
What is Phil's track record?
The Groundhog Club's records show that Phil saw his shadow 102 times and saw no shadow 18 times between 1887 and 2016.
As for whether he's been right or wrong -- that depends on where you live. Weather varies by location. The Washington Post actually studied his findings compared to temperatures across the country between 1984 and 2014, and likened his being right to a coin toss. It's all just chance.
Lousy meteorologist or not, at least he's cute, right?
Aren't there other groundhogs?
Staten Island Chuck, also known as Charles G. Hogg, apparently bit former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and was dropped by current mayor Bill de Blasio on Groundhog Day 2014.
General Beauregard Lee lives in Weathering Heights Plantation at the Yellow River Game Ranch in Georgia and predicts the weather for the southeast. Noteworthy are his commendations by four Georgia governors for his public service and his honorary doctorates.
Maritimer Shubencadie Sam hails from Nova Scotia, Canada.
Canadian town Wiarton has the world's only weather predicting albino groundhog. Not nearly as old as Phil, Wiarton Willie has been predicting the weather since 1956 and attracts quite the crowd.
Are there any New Jersey weather predicting woodchucks?
You can catch Milltown Mel II as he makes his prediction this year at about 7:20 a.m. across from the American Legion Post 25 on J.F. Kennedy Drive in Milltown.
Groundhog Day 2017: Will Punxsutawney Phil See His Shadow?
As the legend goes, if Punxsutawney Phil sees his shadow, we will see six more weeks of winter and below average temperatures. If our favorite groundhog from Pennsylvania does not see his shadow, then an early spring is on its way with above average temperatures.
Phil will climb up out of his burrow, roughly the midway point of astronomical winter, at sunrise to see what he can see, or not see.
The forecast in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, is a high chance of cloudy skies, and there is a chance of a flurry or two. According to the legend, this means an early spring is ahead. For what it's worth, temperatures will be near average as Phil starts his day.
But, how accurate is our friend Phil?
Not very. According to StormFax.com, the groundhog has been accurate only 39 percent of the time since the first Groundhog's Day in 1887. According to NOAA, the groundhog has no predictive skill. Although there has been only "one" Phil for the last 130 years, he's gotten a little more accurate in recent years with an accuracy of about 46 percent since 1988.
Meteorological spring begins March 1 and astronomical spring begins March 20.
Can you believe that before we watched rodents for signs of spring that we looked at candles? Yup. Before Groundhog Day came Candlemas Day, where they looked at the shadows of candles for signs of warmer skies.