Tomorrow is the biggest day of weather folklore; famed groundhog Punxsutawney Phil will emerge from his hole to look for his shadow. If he doesn’t see a shadow, according to weather folklore, this means an early arrival of spring.
Before this big day, one of our meteorologists was able to sit down and chat with William Deeley, the president of the Punxsutaney Groundhog Club. This club functions as the official caretakers of the world’s most famous rodent, Punxsutaney Phil Sowerby, better known as Punxsutaney 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. Punxsutaney is located in Jefferson county in northwestern Pennsylvania.
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.”
The National Weather Service does dispute the groundhog’s accuracy, adding that it’s closer to 35-40% accurate. But while most dismiss the festivities of this folklore holiday, even scientists enjoy the fun-natured holiday rooted in tradition.
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.” This year, Phil celebrates his 134th birthday. Deeley said, “He looks pretty good ,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.