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February 2: Groundhog Day

By Staff | Feb 2, 2012

Today is Groundhog Day. Will we have six more weeks of winter??Or will winter-like weather soon end?

I don’t know about you, but I can never remember whether the groundhog seeing his shadow is good or bad. So I looked it up: If the groundhog sees its shadow (on a sunny morning) he goes back into his home and goes back to sleep, thus signaling that winter is supposedly going to last six more weeks. On the other hand, if the groundhog does not see his shadow (on a cloudy day), he plays around outside for a while. Winter-like weather will supposedly end soon. Make up your own definition of “soon.”

Since we had no groundhog, The Reporter and The Democrat staff turned to a more novel way of predicting the end of winter. We used John Nagle, our sports writer at the time, as our prognosticator. We would dig a hole in a giant pile of snow and Nagle would go in head first to look for the groundhog. When he emerged, we would check to see if he could find his shadow. Of course we would photograph the event, showing Nagle’s legs sticking out of the snow.

Punxsutawney Phil is the official prognosticator. He lives in Punxsutawney, PA. Each year we watch the early morning news on Feb. 2 to see if Phil has seen his shadow when he emerges from his den on Gobbler’s Knob.

It’s not even daylight here when Phil is brought out of his den in Pennsylvania. So, to me, it’s debatable whether or not Phil’s shadow speaks for the entire United States. If it’s cloudy on the East Coast, it might just be sunny here in the Midwest.

Groundhog Day tradition is widely thought to have come to the United States with German immigrants. They settled in Pennsylvania and began the tradition of using the groundhog to predict the arrival or Spring.

Candlemas (the mid-point between Winter and Spring) plays into this tradition. There are Candlemas poems (with a slight difference in wording, depending on the source) that tell the tale:

If Candlemas be fair and bright

Winter has another flight

If Candlemas brings clouds and rain

Winter will not come again

Here’s another:

If Candlemas Day is bright and clear,

There’ll be two winters in the year.

Records go back to 1887 when Phil began his forecasting from Gobbler’s Knob on Groundhog Day. His Winter prognostications have been correct 39% of the time.

On Feb. 2, 2011 there was no shadow at 7:25 a.m. when Phil was brought forth to make his prediction. Rain, snow and ice covered Gobbler’s Knob that morning.

We’ve had a mild winter so far…and Thursday’s forecast for Palo Alto County looks like a mostly sunny day (with a chance of Winter precipitation that night). Will we be looking at six more weeks of Winter? Your guess is as good as Punxsutawney Phil’s.