Punxsutawney Phil’s forecast is in: Will it be early spring or more cold?

In lore that goes back 130 years, a chubby rodent from Gobbler’s Knob predicts every Feb. 2 whether Old Man Winter will overstay his welcome, or if spring is right around the corner.

That famous groundhog, named Punxsutawney Phil, emerged from his tree stump this morning in the culmination of a grand week-long affair that draws thousands of people to the Central Pennsylvania town of Punxsutawney.

Phil speaks to his handlers in “groundhogease” to relay his forecast.

As the lore goes, if Phil emerges from his hole (fake tree stump) and sees his shadow, there will be six more weeks of cold weather, while no shadow means an early spring. And, this morning Phil saw his shadow.

According to the rodent, winter temps will stick around for a few more weeks.

 

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The Climate Prediction Center released its official forecast Wednesday, calling for a cooler than normal February in a swath of the northern U.S. from Montana to Maine, including Pennsylvania.

A large chunk of the western U.S. stretching from Washington down through California and southeast into Florida, is forecast to have warmer than normal temperatures in February.

Unfortunately, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said Phil’s forecast validity isn’t very strong. 

It looked at his past predictions and decided there is “no predictive skill for the groundhog during the most recent years of analysis.” (see table below)

Source: NOAA

While Groundhog Day is a way to have a little fun at mid-winter, climate records and statistics tell us that winter probably isn’t over, NOAA said.  Climatologically speaking, the three coldest months of the year are December, January, and February, so winter typically still has a bit to go when the groundhog comes out in search of his shadow on February 2.

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Other computer whizzes have also weighed in on Phil’s forecasting skills.

According to a 2015 analysis by The Washington Post of 30 years of forecasts at more than 200 cities, Phil was “technically right more times than not in some cities.”

“Even though Phil’s predictions proved correct for some areas of the country, the difference in average temperatures between years he predicted an early spring and years he did not varied by no more than a few degrees,” The Post found.

Washington Post 2015 analysis of forecast accuracy for Punxsutawney Phil

Punxsutawney isn’t the only famous forecasting critter.

There’s General Beauregard Lee of Atlanta, Georgia(link is external)Sir Walter Wally of Raleigh, North Carolina(link is external); and Jimmy of Sun Prairie, Wisconsin(link is external).

And then, there was Lantana Lou.

(Lannis Waters/The Palm Beach Post) — LANTANA – Lantana Lou, otherwise known as former commissioner Lou Canter, at Lantana Public Beach Thursday morning, Feb. 2, 2012, where he predicted more good weather during his 9th annual Groundhog Day event.

Lou Canter, a former Lantana city council member, retired from his annual forecasting duties in 2013. 

Lantana Lou debuted in 2004 at a time when the town was in need of some good news. Town officials got together and brainstormed what they could do to improve the town’s mood, and they thought of Lantana Lou.

While lifting spirits isn’t in Punxsutawney’s official list of duties, it is surely true in watching the zany events surrounding his forecast. 

Here are some fun facts from the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club:

1. Yes, Punxsutawney Phil is the only true weather forecasting groundhog. The others are just imposters.

2. There has been only one Punxsutawney Phil. Punxsutawney Phil gets his longevity from drinking “groundhog punch” (a secret recipe). One sip, which is administered every summer at the Groundhog Picnic, gives him seven more years of life.

3. On February 2nd, Phil comes out of his burrow on Gobbler’s Knob, in front of thousands of faithful followers from all over the world, to predict the weather for the rest of the winter.

4. According to legend, if Punxsutawney Phil sees his shadow, there will be six more weeks of winter weather. If he does not see his shadow, there will be an early spring.

5. No, Punxsutawney Phil’s forecasts are not made in advance by the Inner Circle. After Phil emerges from his burrow on February 2nd, he speaks to the Groundhog Club President in Groundhogese. His proclamation is then translated for the world.

6. The celebration of Groundhog Day began with the Germans, Pennsylvania’s earliest settlers. They brought with them the legend of Candlemas Day, which states “For as the sun shines on Candlemas day, so far will the snow swirl in May…”. The settlers found that groundhogs were plentiful and were the most intelligent and sensible animal to carry on the legend of Candlemas Day.

7. Punxsutawney held its first Groundhog Day in the 1800’s. The first official trek to Gobbler’s Knob made on February 2nd, 1887.

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