Groundhogs are part of the rodent family, officially known as “Marmots.” These animals weigh approximately eight pounds, burrow deep inside the earth for their homes and some people believe that they have the power to predict weather patterns. Mauricio Guitron, a marketing professional with National Today, surveyed over 1,000 people and found that about eight percent of Americans surveyed believed the groundhog to be capable of weather forecasting powers.
Groundhog Day, an American tradition dating back to 1840, was brought around by a German superstition that badgers could predict the weather. The first Groundhog Day celebration is documented in the Punxsutawney Spirit newspaper, mentioning a group that made their way to Gobbler’s Knob, Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania to “confront the groundhog.” That’s how the famous groundhog Punxsutawney Phil got his name. The ceremony involves a council to introduce the day’s events, a crowd of witnesses, a few celebrities, and the most important guest, The Groundhog Phil.
Phil crawls through his tunnel at 6:00 am after a long winter hibernation. The groundhog travels 16 feet underground to the hibernaculum to sleep for five months. The hibernaculum is a burrow dug beneath the frost line, bedded with straw to keep the creatures from freezing. Temperatures at the surface can get as low as four or five degrees Fahrenheit, but the marmot remains cozy and asleep until late winter, usually around Groundhog Day, which is when Punxsutawney Phil comes from his burrow to see his shadow.
Crowds as large as 40,000 gather at Gobbler’s Knob every year Feb. 2 to bear witness to Phil’s declaration of early spring or enduring winter. According to the lore, if Phil comes out of his burrow and sees a shadow, winter will last six more weeks, but if it’s a cloudy day, and he cannot see a shadow, there will be an early spring. Out of the times the groundhog has predicted a lasting winter, he was right about 39% of the time, and when he predicted an early spring, he was right 47% of the time, according to the Farmer’s Almanac.
For crude comparison with human ability, I took a Facebook poll from my friend base: 84% reported that they thought winter would last six more weeks, and 16% reported they are betting on an early spring. According to Phil, who did not see his shadow this time around, spring should be arriving early this year.