Hello Fellow Readers, As the folklore goes, if the groundhog sees his shadow, they’ll be six more weeks of winter. If he doesn’t, it will be an early spring. I’ve always wondered about the accuracy of Groundhog Day predictions. And how do they know what the groundhog sees anyway?
Low and behold, I saw this year’s broadcast of Groundhog Day at Gobbler’s Knob in Punxsutawney, PA. It’s the first time I’ve seen the festivities, and I admit it would be fun to attend. Given it’s only a four-hour drive west of here, why not put it on the bucket list.
What a show!
Precisely at 7:30 AM, a group of men formally dressed in top hats convene around a tree trunk. “Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. It is time.” The crowd ignites with hooting and hollering; the stage men are silent.
Two handlers duck down, their backs to the fans, and take the furry fellow from his den and hand, Punxsutawney Phil, to another who brushes off the straw while holding him in his arms much like a domestic cat. Then, he lifts him high to the crowd as a Heisman Trophy, bringing a roar of excitement and applause. He seemed tame and enthralled with the attention, though the handlers wore protective gloves to match their black suits adorned with rose boutonnieres.
I thought maybe he’s a pet, which turns out to be true. The Punxsutawney Groundhog Club takes care of Phil year-round. With an average life expectancy of a Marmota monax (also known as a woodchuck) being less than six years, there’s likely been over twenty-two Punxsutawney Phil’s to-date.
“Okay, Phil, we have to get serious here, buddy,” said the handler, who places him on top of the tree trunk next to the judge.
“Look me in the eye,” the judge said. A long pause as the crowd grew silent.“We have a prediction.”
Another gentleman unrolls a scroll, “Hear ye, hear ye, hear ye now on the second day of February 2019, the 133rd annual trek of The Punxsutawney Groundhog Club.” He goes on to recite a silly poem that closes with, “But predicting the winter, that’s my song, and for 133 years I’ve never been wrong.” Then comes the prediction. “Faithful followers, there is no shadow of me, a beautiful (early) spring it shall be!”
Groundhog Day less than 50/50
The thing is, Punxsutawney Phil is more often wrong than right reports LiveScience.com based on Storm-fax Almanac’s data. “Which shows that Phil’s six-week prognostications have been correct about 39 percent of the time.” The article goes on to say, “From 1969 on, Phil’s overall accuracy rate drops to about 36 percent,” per Tim Roche, a meteorologist at Weather Underground. He checked the predictions against actual weather outcomes.
Still, Groundhog Day is a fun tradition, and whenever it comes, Spring is something to celebrate. Though not so much the garden damage caused by groundhogs, as cute as they can be. Garden Dilemmas? AskMaryStone@gmail.com (and now on your favorite Podcast App.)
You’ll enjoy a previous column titled Groundhog or Woodchuck Dilemma?
And one themed around a neighbor who wrote, “Help! A woodchuck is eating my trees.” Is it a Beaver or Woodchuck?
The Punxsutawney Groundhog Club
Column Updated 2/2/21