Groundhog Day

Thursday, February 2nd is Groundhog Day,  a popular tradition in the USA. 
Spring is normally seven weeks after Groundhog Day.

It is also a legend that traverses centuries, its origins clouded in the mists of time.

It is the day that the groggy Groundhog comes out of his hole after a long winter sleep to look for his shadow. If he sees it, the furry forecaster regards it as an omen of six more weeks of bad weather and returns to his hole. 

If the day is cloudy and, hence, shadowless, he takes it as a sign of an early spring and moderate weather and stays above ground.  

"Punxsutawney Phil" from Pennsylvania is the most famous of the groundhogs where crowds of over 40,000 can gather on February 2nd to find out if spring will come early.

He even has an official website here

Groundhog Day as we know it began around 1887 in Punxsutawney, but its roots go back hundreds and even thousands of years. 
That may explain the origin of Groundhog Day in general, but it offers few clues on how groundhogs got involved. For that, we can thank 19th-century German immigrants and a creative city editor at the Punxsutawney Spirit newspaper.

Germans who settled in Pennsylvania in the 1800s brought many customs from home, including an old practice of predicting the end of winter based on bears' and badgers' hibernation habits. 
Some Germans may have switched to groundhogs when they arrived in America, but the new tradition didn't really take off until the late 1880s, when a group of local groundhog hunters caught the attention of Punxsutawney Spirit city editor Clymer H. Freas.
punxsutawney phil
Freas reported on the men's groundhog hunts and barbecues, touting them as members of "the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club." He became so enthralled by local groundhog folklore that he went on to promote Punxsutawney as home to a weather-predicting groundhog, a story he then continued to repeat and embellish year after year. Other newspapers began reporting it, too, and Punxsutawney soon became ground zero for groundhog meteorology, as well as the hometown of world-renowned forecaster "Punxsutawney Phil" (pictured at right).

The rise of Punxsutawney Phil has also inspired an array of other forecasting groundhogs across the United States and Canada, including Gen. Beauregard Lee in Atlanta, Sir Walter Wally in Raleigh and Wiarton Willie in Ontario.
Although there could be some truth to the link between clear weather on Feb. 2 and a longer winter — since sunny days in winter are often caused by cold, dry air masses, and cloudy days tend to result from moist, mild ocean air — the National Climatic Data Center points out that groundhogs are hardly reliable meteorologists.

An NCDC analysis shows Punxsutawney Phil's winter predictions only held up 39 percent of the time from 1988 to 2005, and a study of Canada's 13 major weather-forecasting groundhogs found their success rate was about 37 percent over 30 to 40 years.
It's worth noting that wild groundhogs in North America often hibernate into late February and March — suggesting they may know winter isn't over without even stepping outside on Groundhog Day.

No comments: