Sunday, February 2, 2014

Groundhog Day…And I Don't Mean The Movie


Unfortunately for Punxsutawney Phil, the official prognosticator of weather, there's a disturbance in the cosmos perched on the horizon waiting to swoop in a take over.  At least three challengers set to usurp his throne.

Every year on February 2 a furry rodent of the groundhog variety named Punxsutawney Phil sticks his head out of his burrow in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, to do his annual weather forecast.  In the United States and Canada, this is celebrated as Groundhog Day.  If Phil sees his shadow, it will frighten him and he'll return to his burrow signaling six more weeks of winter.  If he doesn't see his shadow, he'll emerge and winter will soon be over.

At least, that's what the tradition claims.

The earliest American written reference to a groundhog day was 1841 in Pennsylvania's Berks County (Pennsylvania Dutch) referring to it as the German celebration called Candlemas day where a groundhog seeing its shadow was a weather indication.  Since the first official celebration of Groundhog Day in Pennsylvania in 1886, crowds as large as 40,000 people have gathered in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, for the annual celebration.  And in recent years it's been covered live on television.  Quite an accolade for the little ol' groundhog.

The groundhog, also known as a woodchuck, is a member of the squirrel family.  The current Punxsutawney Phil weighs fifteen pounds and lives in a climate controlled home in the Punxsutawney library.  On Gobbler's Knob, Phil is placed in a heated burrow underneath a simulated tree stump on a stage before being pulled out at 7:25AM to make his annual prediction.

Quite removed from the concept of the groundhog waking from hibernation and emerging from his burrow in the wild.  :)

Phil's forecasting accuracy isn't all that great.  He's only been correct 39% of the time.  Between 1887 and 2009 he's seen his shadow ninety-eight times (hmm…I wonder how many of those time was due to the television lights), has not seen his shadow fifteen times, and on nine occasions there was no record of what happened.

Punxsutawney Phil, the "Official" groundhog of Groundhog Day, has more than one challenger for chief weather prognosticator.  And just who are these brash interlopers?

There's a bullfrog named Snohomish Slew.  Punxsutawney Phil might have over a hundred years of experience on Snohomish Slew, but the bullfrog is a full three days earlier with his forecast.  Thanks to the Snohomish, Washington, Chamber of Commerce, Slew is guest of honor at a GroundFrog Day Celebration.

Unlike Phil, when Slew sees his shadow it calls for eight more weeks of "foggy, soggy weather" in the Pacific Northwest rather than Phil's six more weeks of winter.  However, Snohomish folklore dictates that whoever rubs the tummy of a frog on GroundFrog Day will be rewarded with eight weeks of good luck.

Another challenger to Phil's throne is a groundhog named Staten Island Chuck, a resident of the Staten Island Zoo in New York.  According to the Zoo, Chuck's accuracy rate since 1981 is better than 80 percent.  The Zoo's gates opened at 6:30 this morning, Eastern time, in preparation for Chuck's 7:30am appearance.

And in the Detroit area, we have Woody the Woodshuck who resides at the Howell Nature Center.  If Woody comes out to eat her food within a minute, that means spring will soon be here.  According to the Center, Woody has been right 11 times out of 14, a more accurate record than Phil's.

It appears that the field of Prognosticators of Spring is getting crowded.  :)


Ashantay said...

Phil lives in a library?? I'd be going back to bed so I could read for six more weeks, too!

Samantha Gentry said...

Hi, Ashantay: I wonder how we know if he really sees his shadow or if he's only casting a shadow due to all the lights, including the tv lights in addition to the normal lights inside the library. :)

Thanks for your comment.

Andrea Downing said...

I'm all for Woody the Woodchuck. Wasn't there a song about him once?

Samantha Gentry said...

Andrea: I don't know about a song, but there was that tongue-twister: How much wood could a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood. :)

Thanks for your comment.