Groundhog Day 2023: Did the groundhog see his shadow?

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Geoff Herbert, Writer

Will it be six more weeks of winter or an early spring? That’s right, woodchuck-chuckers, it’s Groundhog Day 2023!

Thousands gathered on a cold Thursday morning at Gobbler’s Knob in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, for the annual Feb. 2 celebration to watch Punxsutawney Phil make his weather prediction. Punxsutawney, which calls itself the “weather capital of the world,” is home to the tiny meteorologist now celebrating their 137th Groundhog Day event.

So did Punxsutawney Phil see his shadow? Yes. That means six more weeks of winter, according to the famous weather prognosticator and “seer of seers.”

According to an old German legend, if a groundhog sees his shadow on Feb. 2, winter will last another six weeks. If not, spring comes early. (The pseudo-holiday originally started as badger day in European folklore, but German immigrants in Pennsylvania couldn’t find badgers, so they started using groundhogs.)

The first day of spring is technically March 20, as the season officially starts with the vernal equinox.

And according to The Associated Press, the tiny meteorologist’s weather “forecast” is actually decided before he “sees” his shadow on Groundhog Day. Records show Punxsutawney Phil has called for an extended winter more than 100 times since 1887, and spring just over a dozen times.

But we love the tradition, which was popularized even more by the 1993 movie “Groundhog Day” starring Bill Murray as curmudgeonly weatherman Phil Connors.

“This is pitiful. A thousand people freezing their butts off waiting to worship a rat. What a hype,” Murray said in the film.

Directed by the late Harold Ramis and co-starring Andie MacDowell, the film showed Murray’s character reliving the same day — Feb. 2, Groundhog Day — over and over again in Punxsutawney, Pa., a small town 65 miles outside of Pittsburgh. Murray revisited his groundhog adventure in a 2020 Super Bowl commercial with his co-star Stephen Tobolowsky as obnoxious insurance salesman Ned Ryerson.

Other states have their own rodent forecasters, like Georgia’s groundhog General Beauregard Lee, Ohio’s Buckeye Chuck, New Jersey’s Milltown Mel, and New York’s Staten Island Chuck and Buffalo Bert. They don’t always agree with Punsxy Phil on their predictions, though.

Punxsutawney Phil doesn’t have a strong track record predicting weather in Syracuse and CNY. From 2004 to 2013, there was no correlation between his predictions and the actual weather: In the five warmest periods after Feb. 2 over that stretch, Phil called for a late spring; in the coldest six-week stretch, in 2007, he promised an early spring.

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The NOAA also says there’s no national correlation between Phil’s shadow-sightings and the actual weather in February and March. The numbers since 1998 show the groundhog’s shadow is just as reliable as flipping a coin.

And the holiday is not without controversy, either. The animal rights group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) has requested the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club retire Punxsutawney Phil and replace him with a robot — an animatronic groundhog with an artificial intelligence (AI) system that could more accurately predict the coming weather.

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