At a time when the northeast has seen below normal snowfall this winter thus far, famed groundhog Punxsutawney Phil is forecasting another 6 weeks of winter on Groundhog Day 2023. Today marks the 137th time the holiday tradition was celebrated in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania.
At 7:26am, in so-called “Groundhogese”, Phil directed the President and the Inner Circle that surrounds him to his prediction scroll that identified he saw his shadow, calling for an additional 6 weeks of winter as per legend.
According to folklore, when the groundhog can see its shadow, there will be another 6 weeks of winter. If he doesn’t see his shadow, folklore says spring will arrive early.
After a post-pandemic return to Groundhog Day festivities last year, more of the same was had again this year. Dancers packed the stage performing to a DJ ahead of the announcement while crowds dressed warmly for the cold February morning packed the venue eager for the forecast from the furry creature. Last year, Punxsutawney Groundhog Club President Jeff Lundy said the 2022 crowd was the largest they ever had for a weekday event and 2023 appears to be just as popular.
Before this big day, one of our meteorologists was able to sit down and chat with William Deeley, the president at the time of the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club. This club functions as the official caretakers of the world’s most famous rodent, Punxsutawney Phil Sowerby, better known as Punxsutawney Phil. This club was started in the 1886 and continues to this day to protect and perpetuate the legend of Punxsutawney Phil, the great weather predicting groundhog. Punxsutawney is located in Jefferson county in northwestern Pennsylvania. Today,
Deeley stands behind Phil’s accuracy ratings. “Phil’s weather prediction is 100% accurate. He has been correct 130 times and wrong 0 times. However, I (Deeley has the honor of retrieving Phil from his hole in the ground) sometimes have trouble understanding Phil, with all the noise occurring on the celebration of this special day and since groundhogs speak a different language than we do. You might say we sometimes have trouble with the translation.”
While the club claims high accuracy, others dispute the findings: the National Weather Service says he only has a 50-50 track record.
Deeley added additional color to the holiday: “The tradition of Phil started in our homeland of Germany. Our ancestors were farmers and eagerly awaited the end of the long German winter so we could begin the process of getting our fields ready for planting our crops. In Germany there were no groundhogs but we did have hedgehogs. They served the same purpose as Phil here. Unfortunately, in the middle of the cold Germanic winter, our hedgehog usually ended up on someone’s dinner plate.”
As these German farmers settled in Pennsylvania, they wanted to hold on to this tradition of the hedgehogs predicting the end of winter. But, finding no hedgehogs in the United States, they settled on a much bigger and furrier rodent, the groundhog. “Our ancestors found this particularly handsome groundhog here and named him Phil Sowerby. We treat him like gold. Do you know that this here groundhog (Phil was sleeping next to Deeley as we chatted) is over 130 years old?”
Deeley explained the magic behind Phil’s old age. “A normal Pennsylvanian groundhog will live on average 4-6 years. But Phil is celebrating his 131st birthday this year. He looks pretty good for 130,huh? Here is the secret, in the late summer the Club makes a trek to Phil’s Stump at Gobbler’s Knob about 4pm and Phil drinks several sips of Groundhog Punch, a secret recipe of the club that aids in Phil’s longevity. Think of it as the fountain of youth for groundhogs. And don’t you get any Ponce de Leon ideas out of this, it only works on groundhogs, not people.”
With a holiday rooted in part fairytale, part magic, and part weather folklore, one can’t take the holiday too seriously.
The holiday, which began as a Pennsylvania German custom in southeastern and central Pennsylvania in the 18th and 19th centuries, has its origins in ancient European weather lore, wherein a badger or sacred bear is the forecaster as opposed to a groundhog. In addition, it resembles the Pagan festival of Imbolc, the seasonal turning point of the Celtic calendar, which is celebrated on February 1 and also involves weather forecasting too.
In 1723, the Delaware Native Americans settled in the area around Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania. It was a campsite halfway between the Allegheny and the Susquehanna Rivers. The name Punxsutawney comes from the Native American name for the location “ponksad-uteney” which means “the town of the sand flies.” When the Germans came to America in the 1700s and settled in Pennsylvania, they brought their cultural traditions and introduced the tradition of an animal seeing its shadow into the prediction of the weather on that day. In Germany, a badger had been used, but using a groundhog in America seemed just as appropriate.
In 1886, Clymer H. Freas, city editor of the Punxsutawney Spirit Newspaper, was inspired by a local tradition of hunting and cooking groundhogs and dubbed the participants The Punxsutawney Groundhog Club. Using his editorial clout, he proclaimed the Punxsutawney groundhog to be the one and only official weather forecasting groundhog. He issued this proclamation on February 2. From that day in 1886, the Punxsutawney groundhog’s fame began to spread, and newspapers from around the globe began to report its Groundhog Day predictions.