Punxsutawney Phil at Gobbler’s Knob (Photo Credit:punxsyphil.innercircle via Facebook)

As is the case every February 2, thousands of people gathered at Gobbler’s Knob in Pennsylvania early in the morning to witness legendary groundhog Punxsutawney Phil predict the length of this year’s winter. Given the gloomy weather and scattered snow showers, it appeared highly unlikely that the animal would see his shadow, the indication of an extended winter.

At about 7:25 AM, following a pre-dawn party that included musicians, dancers, and fireworks, two tuxedo-clad handlers unlocked the door of the groundhog’s tree-trunk lair. With the crowd loudly chanting Phil’s name, they carefully pulled out the famous woodchuck, who appeared to be in a feisty mood. After surveying his surroundings carefully, Phil, speaking in Groundhogese, asked the President and Inner Circle to convey this message to the anxiously waiting audience:

At Gobbler’s Knob on Groundhog Day
We celebrate a worldwide Holiday
It’s mighty cold weather, you’ve been braving
Is it more winter or is it spring that you’re craving?
Since you’ve been up all night and starting to tottle
I, Punxsutawney Phil, shall not dawdle
My faithful followers, I could clearly see
A beautiful, perfect shadow of me
Six more Weeks of Winter, it shall be!

Image Credit: NOAA

But just as Phil was proclaiming a longer winter, his rival, New York’s Staten Island Chuck, missed seeing his shadow and declared that spring is around the corner. Nova Scotia’s Shubenacadie Sam, who has been forecasting the weather since 1987, agreed with Chuck.

So who are people to believe? With 131 years of predictions under his belt, Phil is definitely more experienced. However, while the folks at Punxsutawney assert that the woodchuck has never been wrong, human weather forecasters beg to differ. An analysis done by NOAA’s National Climatic Data Center indicates that in the past decade, the legendary groundhog has been right just 50% of the time. An examination of his record since 1887 suggests an even lower 39%, accuracy rate. On the other hand, Staten Island Chuck has been right 80% of the time during his 33-year career, a fact that nobody is disputing. However, which woodchuck is right will be revealed on March 20th, the first official day of spring."

Groundhog Day was started by German immigrants who came to Pennsylvania in the 18th and 19th century. Since then, the holiday is celebrated across North America every February 2nd. While there are now many weather-predicting groundhogs, Punxsutawney Phil, who is purportedly being kept alive by a magic potion, remains the most popular. The little critter is also known internationally, thanks to his starring role in the 1993 movie Groundhog Day.

Nova Scotia’s Shubenacadie Sam predicts early Spring (Photo Credit Communications Nova Scotia)

Groundhogs, also called woodchucks, land beavers, or whistle pigs, are the largest members of the squirrel family. They grow between 17-26 inches in length and can weigh up to 4lbs. With the exceptions of Phil and Chuck, these primarily herbivorous animals have a lifespan of between 6-8 years in the wild.

Happy Groundhog Day!

Resources: NPR.org, businessinsider.com, weather.com