The world’s most famous furry forecaster, Punxsutawney Phil, will pop out of his burrow Saturday morning to tell the nation what our weather will be like for the next six weeks. Will we have an early spring, or will winter dig in its heels until mid-March?
According to folklore, if it’s cloudy when the groundhog emerges from its burrow Saturday, it will leave the burrow, signifying that winter will soon end. If, however, it’s a sunny day, Phil will supposedly see his shadow and, frightened, retreat back into his burrow, and winter will continue for six more weeks.
The current forecast from the National Weather Service is for a cloudy, snowy day, but Phil is a fickle fuzzball, so it’s hard to know what he’ll do.
Unfortunately, based on an analysis of weather data over the past 25 years, “there is no predictive skill for the groundhog during the most recent years of the analysis,” according to the National Climatic Data Center in Asheville, N.C.
The center found that since 1988, the groundhog has been “right” 10 times and “wrong” 15 times. In other words, only 10 times did the national average temperature for the remainder of February match what would be expected based on what the groundhog had predicted.
For example, last year, Phil saw his shadow, predicting six more weeks of winter, yet we ended up with a warm February and the warmest March in U.S. history.
Since 1887, the groundhog has seen his shadow 100 times, and not seen it 16 times to predict an early spring. (There is no record of the prediction for nine times in the late 19th century.)
Although Phil is the most famous hog of them all, other prognosticating groundhogs include West Virginia’s French Creek Freddie, Georgia’s Gen. Beauregard Lee, Ohio’s Buckeye Chuck, North Carolina’s Sir Wally Wally, Alabama’s Smith Lake Jake and New York’s Staten Island Chuck (full name: Charles G. Hogg).
Groundhog Day has its origins in an ancient celebration of Candlemas, a point midway between the winter solstice and the spring equinox, according to the climate center. Superstition has it that fair weather was seen as a prediction of a stormy and cold second half to winter, as noted in this Old English saying:
“If Candlemas be fair and bright,
Winter has another flight.
If Candlemas brings clouds and rain,
Winter will not come again.”