Groundhog Day: Punxsutawney Phil, Weather Forecaster

How did a groundhog become the most celebrated predictor of winter weather?

The national folklore and legend of Groundhog Day has kept people across the country wondering what Punxsutawney Phil, the famous burrowing groundhog, will tell us about our winter seasons.

This year for 2012, Phil saw his shadow and predicted another six weeks of winter.

Groundhog Day is celebrated every Feb. 2., and according to folklore influenced by European tradition, the groundhog comes out of his burrow after a long hibernation to look for his shadow.

If it is sunny, and he sees it, he will return back to his burrow and the winter season will continue for six more weeks.

If it’s cloudy, expect an early spring.

The tradition stems from Candlemas Day of early Christianity in Europe. According to a popular English song:

“If Candlemas be fair and bright,
Come, Winter, have another flight;
If Candlemas brings clouds and rain,
Go Winter, and come not again.”

Ancient Germans incorporated a hedgehog in the celebrations as a predictor of winter weather. Many of America’s early European settlers were of German descent, and they found the groundhog to be similar to the European hedgehog, thus continuing the tradition.

Thousands of people attend Groundhog Day celebrations in 49 states across the country (Alaska reportedly lacks enough groundhogs to take part in festivities), but the largest is in Punxsutawaney, Pennsylvania. According to the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club website, as many as 30,000 have come out to observe the rodent’s seasonal weather forecast.

But how accurate are his predictions?

While the Punxsutawaney Groundhog Club claims 100 percent accuracy, a study from the National Climatic Data Center puts that number to a less credible 39 percent.

Here in the southern California, we don’t need a groundhog to tell us that an early spring is coming – It may already be here.

The southland has been fortunate with mild temperatures in the 70’s and weather experts say this warm weather may stick around for a while.

La Nina is responsible for the mild, dry weather we will most likely see for the rest of the winter season, Bill Patzert, research oceanographer and climatologist at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena told ABC News.

But while residents may be reveling in the warm winter weather, it may mean a dismal season for snow resorts and southern California farmers.


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