It's Groundhog Day and the Forecast is...
By: John Shepler
As dawn breaks on Gobbler's Knob, a buzz of anticipation begins to run through the gathering crowd. Burrowed inside his simulated tree trunk, Punxsutawney Phil is about to be pulled from his heated abode to render the most celebrated weather forecast of the year. Can we lift our spirits with the thought that spring is just around the corner ...or must we steel ourselves to the bitter realization that there are six more weeks of winter?
Groundhog Day has its origins in the ancient celebration of Imbolc, a point mid-way between the Winter Solstice and the Spring Equinox. Superstition has it that fair weather was seen as forbearance of a stormy and cold second half to winter. The early Christians in Europe established the custom of Candlemas Day, when the clergy would bless candles and people would light them in each window of their homes to ward off the darkness of mid-winter. But the legend of the February 2nd forecast also persisted, as captured in this old English saying:
If Candlemas be fair and bright,
In the Delaware area of early North America, the natives honored a creation story that said their original people, the Lenni Lenape, were once animals in mother earth and only centuries later emerged to live and hunt as men. Their ancient grandfather carried the name Oijik or Wojak, which later white settlers pronounced as "Woodchuck."
The logical merging of the German culture of the Pennsylvania Dutch, who brought with them the superstition of forecasting the weather based on the reaction of a hedgehog seeing or not seeing its shadow on Candlemas day, and the American Indian culture of revering the groundhog or woodchuck, culminated in our current celebration of Groundhog Day on February 2. So why is Punxsutawney, of all places, immortalized as the national weather forecast center of Groundhog Day? Why not?
The trail of history actually leads back to one man, Clymer H. Freas, city editor of the Punxsutawney Spirit newspaper. In 1887, he was inspired by a group of local hunters and gourmets who held a groundhog hunt followed by a picnic barbecue of, well, you know. Anyway, Freas though it so much fun that he wrote up the group as the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club and went on to promote the Punxsutawney Groundhog as the official weather forecaster. As he embellished the story year after year, other newspapers picked it up and soon everyone looked to Punxsutawney Phil for the critical prediction of when spring would return to the nation.
The fame of Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania reached a new high in 1990, with the release of the film Groundhog Day starring Bill Murray and Andie MacDowell. Bill is a cynical TV weatherman who gets trapped in time, reliving Feb. 2 over and over and over as he learns an important lesson in life. Now, is this just a romantic comedy or is there something like "a true meaning of Groundhog Day"?
Regardless, Punxsutawney can't keep something this big to itself. Other prognosticating rodents are popping up, literally, to claim a piece of the action. The notable contenders include Sun Prairie Jimmy of Wisconsin; Tennessee Groundhog of Silver Point, Tennessee; General Beauregard Lee, the Official Weather Prognosticator of the State of Georgia; Wiarton Willie, an albino groundhog who hails from Canada; and even Octorara Orphie of Quarryville, Pennsylvania...competition right next door. Each of these celebrated forecasters has a following that includes locals, visitors and the media. The revered groundhogs typically preside over festival events before making their grand appearance to check for shadows on the morning of February 2.
So, are we taking this Groundhog Day thing maybe a bit too seriously? Or is it true that six weeks into winter we've had all we can take, and are desperate to grab at any shadow, yes shadow, of hope for relief from the cold, the snow, the icy roads, the salt and dirt all over the cars, that mush surrounding the mailbox at the end of the driveway, the penetrating air, the gloomy skies, the...Oh, No! I'm not sure I can handle it if the furry one sees himself as a sundial. Then again, a sunny day with blue skies would be a psychic boost all by itself. Gee, now I don't which way I want it to go.
Oh, well, why don't we just let the groundhogs decide. If we don't like the answer, well there's always a tasty barbecue of groundho...er, uh, I mean ground beef. Don't look at me like that. I didn't mean a thing, Phil. Really.
Here they are, the 2017 Groundhog Spring Predictions:
Big, big shadow for Punxsutawney Phil, Oracle of the East. That means two things. Phil hasn't missed a meal in some time and six more weeks of winter for Pennsylvania. Oh, that's going to help a guy loose weight!
Other parts of the Eastern USA area are a mixed bag. Dunkirk Dave in New York saw his shadow,but Staten Island Chuck did not. Hmmm.
The Midwest is clear as a... Oh, no. Chuck the Rockford Rodent and Sun Prairie Jimmy will be freezing thier rodent burrows off as well.
Away down South in Dixie, things look better... i.e,. foggy. General Beauregard Lee did NOT see his shadow. His prediction: An early spring, of course.
Same thing up North in Canada. Wiarton "Wee" Willie saw no sun in Ontario. Oh, Canada, it's and early spring for you, too. Congratulations.
Hope your February and March will be at least sunny, if not warm. And remember, these are just groundhog weather predictions!
Also visit these related sites:
Punxsutawney Phil - The official site for Punxsutawney Groundhog Club. It includes the Legend of Groundhog Day plus Phil's story and suggested activities to celebrate his big day.
Chuck the Rockford Rodent - Our very own. Ok, he's actually a golf club cover fashioned in the likeness of the gopher from the movie "Caddy Shack." Hey, you work with what you've got.
Sun Prairie Jimmy - Claiming to hail for the official groundhog capital of the world, Jimmy lives with a nice family on a farm near this Wisconsin town. He's also my unofficial "real" groundhog because he lives closest.
Wiarton Willie's Home Page - He's an albino groundhog from Canada who claims a 90% prediction accuracy rate. See Wee Willie's forecast for Canada.
Dunkirk Dave - Visit Dave and his human friend Bob, a licensed wildlife rehabilitator, in Dunkirk, New York.
Octorara Orphie - Here's the unofficial site for this adorable groundhog.
Sir Walter Wally - Makes his home at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences. Wouldn't want to confuse him with Sir Walter Raleigh, who was let out of the Tower of London, saw his shadow, and was beheaded.
Famous Groundhogs From Around The World - Yes, there are others and they are multiplying like... well, like the cute little furry fellows they are.
Groundhog Day History from Stormfax - Here's the history of Groundhog day from Candlemas to the movie, plus the complete record of when Phil did and did not see his shadow.
Send FREE Groundhog Day Cards - Share your enjoyment of Groundhog Day with free e-cards from 123Greetings.com.
Copyright 1999 - 2017 by John E. Shepler. Linking to this article is welcome, but no online republication is permitted. Print media republication rights are available at reasonable rates. Contact me at: John (at) JohnShepler.com
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First Published: January 31, 1999 as part of A Positive Light