Maryan Mohseni '24
Every year on February 2 we wait for the Groundhog’s prediction of an early spring or six more weeks of winter. This year the groundhog predicted six more weeks of winter and sure enough that’s what we’ve seen so far. However, while the prediction is correct thus far this year, studies have not found a connection between a groundhog seeing its shadow and the subsequent arrival time of spring-like weather or six more weeks of winter.
The most popular Groundhog Day celebration is held in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, with the groundhog Punxsutawney Phil. According to the lore, there is only one Phil, and all other groundhogs are impostors and that Phil has lived to make weather prognostications since 1886, sustained by "groundhog punch" or "elixir of life" given to him at the annual Groundhog Picnic in the fall. According to the Groundhog Club, Phil speaks to the club president in the language of 'Groundhogese', which supposedly only the current president can understand, and then his prediction is translated and revealed to all.
The Groundhog Day celebration is rooted in a Celtic and Germanic tradition that says that if a hibernating animal casts a shadow on February 2, the pagan holiday of Imbolc (known among Christians as Candlemas), winter and cold weather will last another six weeks. If no shadow is seen, legend says, spring will come early. In Germany, the tradition evolved into a myth that if the sun came out on Candlemas, a hedgehog would cast its shadow, predicting snow all the way into May. When German immigrants settled in Pennsylvania, they transferred the tradition onto local fauna, replacing hedgehogs with groundhogs.
Each year two scrolls are prepared by the vice president of the Inner Circle: One says early spring and the other says six more weeks of winter. These scrolls are placed during the ceremony on the stump and after Phil is awakened by the crowd, Phil communicates in Groundhogese to the President, who is then directed by Phil to the proper scroll and forecast. However, records show that Phil’s prediction is not as accurate as one might assume from all the attention he gets. In fact, according to records held since the 1800’s by the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club, Phil has predicted 105 continued winters and only 20 early springs, giving him a 39% accuracy rate.
Although the Groundhog Day celebration in Punxsutawney is the most popular, other celebrations are held elsewhere around the country. In Milltown, New Jersey, the groundhog Milltown Mel, had offered his weather predictions for the past few years, becoming something of a local celebrity. However, this year, just days before the big annual ceremony, Mel unfortunately passed away and the celebration in New Jersey was canceled. Although the news came as a surprise to many, it is not unusual at all, since the average lifespan of a groundhog is 3-4 years, and Mel was six years old. In a Facebook post his handlers announced to the public that Mel “has crossed the rainbow bridge” and gone to groundhog heaven. Although they scrambled to quickly find a replacement before February 2nd, they were unsuccessful, as all of Mel’s fellow groundhogs were in hibernation at the time.
The six more weeks of winter that Phil predicted this year are coming to an end. Hopefully, next year he’ll predict an early spring, but even if he does there’s only a 39% chance, he’ll be right.