Punxsutawney Phil sees his shadow, predicts 6 more weeks of winter

Since 1988 Punxsutawney Phil has predicted when winter will end correctly 14 times but has been wrong 15 times.

Punxsutawney Phil made his famous weather prediction this morning, emerging from his burrow to see his shadow.

That means, according to Groundhog Day tradition, the U.S. will brave another six weeks of winter.

The groundhog, emerging from a sleep, squealed as he was pulled from his burrow about 7:15 a.m. He was placed on a stump, then his official prognostication was made.

It was Phil's 131st prediction, an institution in the Western Pennsylvania town of Punxsutawney that dates back to 1886. On Thursday morning, hundreds of people descended on Gobbler's Knob as a light snow fell to watch Phil be coaxed from his burrow.

According to legend, if it's sunny and Phil sees his shadow, the scared groundhog returns to his burrow and the U.S. will endure six more weeks of winter. But if it's cloudy when the groundhog emerges on Feb. 2, the critter won't see his shadow and will leave his burrow, meaning winter will soon end and an early start to spring is coming.

The Climate Prediction Center, in its official forecast for February released Tuesday, calls for warmer-than-average temperatures for almost the entire U.S.

Unfortunately, based on past weather data, "there is no predictive skill for the groundhog during the most recent years of the analysis," according to a report released this week by NOAA's National Centers for Environmental Information in Asheville, N.C.

Flipping a coin might be as accurate as Phil. Since 1988, the groundhog was "right" 14 times and "wrong" 15 times. In other words, only 14 times did the national average temperature for the remainder of February match what would be expected based on what the groundhog predicted.

But last year, Phil was spot on: The fuzzy rodent didn't see his shadow, so winter should have been over. And both February and March ended up warmer than average across the nation, NOAA said. In fact every state in the contiguous U.S. had an above-average March temperature.

Since 1887, the groundhog has seen his shadow 102 times, to forecast a longer winter, and not seen it 18 times, to predict an early spring. (There is no record of the prediction for 10 times in the late 19th century.)

While Groundhog Day is just some mid-winter fun, climate records say that winter probably isn't over, according to NOAA. Climatologically speaking, the three coldest months of the year are December, January and February, so winter typically still has a ways to go when the groundhog comes out on Feb. 2.

Although Phil is the most famous hog, other furry forecasters include West Virginia's French Creek Freddie, Georgia's Gen. Beauregard Lee, Ohio's Buckeye Chuck, North Carolina's Sir Walter Wally, Louisiana's Cajun Groundhog, Alabama's Smith Lake Jake, Wisconsin's Jimmy, and New York's Staten Island Chuck (full name: Charles G. Hogg).

Groundhog Day's origins lie in an ancient European celebration of Candlemas, which is a point midway between the winter solstice and the spring equinox — the exact midpoint of astronomical winter.

Superstition has it that fair weather predicted a stormy and cold second half to winter, as noted in this Old English saying:

"If Candlemas be fair and bright,
Winter has another flight.
If Candlemas brings clouds and rain,
Winter will not come again."

This story was previously published in USA TODAY.

 

USA TODAY


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