History of Groundhog Day

By Trent Aric, Meteorologist, taric@local10.com
Published On: Feb 01 2012 11:50:16 PM EST
Updated On: Apr 04 2012 08:47:32 PM EDT
MIAMI -

Thursday, February 2nd, is Groundhog Day.  The day that everyone watches the groundhog come out of hibernation to see if he sees his shadow or not.  If it is sunny and he does see his shadow that means six more weeks of winter.  If it’s cloudy and the groundhog does not see his shadow then spring will come early.

Why February 2nd?  February 2nd is 40 days after Christmas and is Candlemas Day in Christianity.  On Candlemas Day Christian clergy in Europe offered blessings and handed out candles to use in the dark of winter.  There was on old European saying that a sunny Candlemas day would lead the winter to last for another six weeks.  

It was the Germans who added the idea on an animal being frightened by his shadow on Candlemas would mean winter would stick around for another six weeks.  However, they used hedgehogs, not groundhogs.  Groundhogs were used when this tradition was brought to America during the 18th Century by German settlers because they were more plentiful than hedgehogs.

Groundhog Day in the United States is all about Punxsutawney Phil, the official groundhog, located in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania about 90 miles northeast of Pittsburgh.  Thousands gather each year to watch Punxsutawney Phil emerge to make his prediction.  Punxsutawney Phil was made even more popular after the 1993 movie “Groundhog Day” starring Bill Murray.

The legend of Punxsutawney Phil was started by a the editor of the local paper in Pennsylvania.  He used his newspaper to proclaim that Phil was the only official weather prognosticating groundhog. 

This will be the 126th year that Punxsutawney Phil will predict the weather.   Phil has cast a shadow 99 times, indicating six more weeks of winter and he has not cast a shadow 16 times, indicating an early spring.  The Punxsutawney Groundhog Club is missing nine years worth of records.

Last year Punxsutawney Phil saw his shadow and predicted six more weeks of winter.  It depends on where you live as to whether he was right or not as the South saw an early spring while the Midwest received record breaking late winter snow.

Over the years several other groundhogs across the country have attempted to predict the weather as well.  That list of groundhogs includes Sir Walter Wally, Tumbleweed, General Beauregard Lee, Chuckles, French Creek Freddie, Woodstock Willie and Staten Island Chuck to name a few,  In 2009 Staten Island Chuck bit New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.  Guess Chuck wasn’t ready to wake up from his winter nap!  The two will meet again this year.

Happy Groundhog Day South Florida!

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