Groundhog Day: Weather Predictions from the Animal World

    02 February 2023

    A groundhog from the small town of Punxsutawney in the state of Pennsylvania again predicted that North America would have six more weeks of winter.

    On Thursday, thousands of people gathered around a hill called Gobbler's Knob to watch the yearly event. A group of men in black coats and top hats woke up the groundhog from his long winter sleep. It was as if the groundhog, named Punxsutawney Phil, told them, "I see a shadow...It's six more weeks of winter weather."

    Since 1887, tradition says that if Punxsutawney Phil does not see his shadow on Groundhog Day, February 2, spring will come early.

    A.J. Dereume holds Punxsutawney Phil during the 137th celebration of Groundhog Day in Punxsutawney, Pa., Feb. 2, 2023. (AP Photo/Barry Reeger)
    A.J. Dereume holds Punxsutawney Phil during the 137th celebration of Groundhog Day in Punxsutawney, Pa., Feb. 2, 2023. (AP Photo/Barry Reeger)

    Groundhog Day is believed to have come from the ancient European tradition of Candlemas Day. On that day clergy would bless and give out candles to Christians for the long winter.

    Some versions of the ancient story say that in parts of Germany, people thought that if a hedgehog saw his shadow on Candlemas Day there would be a "Second Winter" — or six more weeks of bad weather. As Germans migrated to what is now the state of Pennsylvania, they chose another animal, and Groundhog Day was born.

    Not just groundhogs predict the weather

    The tradition is celebrated in many places around the United States and Canada. Countdown to Groundhog Day keeps a list showing 157 such celebrations in North America.

    But the animals do not always agree — and not all of them are groundhogs.

    Staten Island Chuck, a groundhog once known for biting the finger of then-New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, predicted it would be an early spring. It is hard to argue with that since the National Weather Service said on the social media service Twitter that the lack of snow in the northeast "has been extremely unusual" this year.

    In the state of Connecticut, Beardsley Bart, a prairie dog in Bridgeport, also predicted it would be an early spring this year. But Scramble the Duck, Jr. said it would be a long winter in nearby Eastford.

    In the state of Ohio, Benny the Bass, a fish, ate a minnow - or a small fish - soon after its release. The Buckeye Lake Region Chamber of Commerce Winterfest said it means there will be an early spring. Tad and Lil, two frogs from Snohomish in the state of Washington, agreed that spring would come early on their own "Groundfrog Day" celebration.

    The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration compared Punxsutawney Phil's forecast in the past 10 years to the actual weather. The agency found that "on average, Phil has gotten it right 40 percent of the time."

    Still, Phil remains the most famous weather predictor thanks to the movie Groundhog Day. In 1993, actor Bill Murray played a weather reporter in the film. The reporter finds himself stuck in time and wakes up on the same day, over and over again, while visiting Punxsutawney.

    The movie popularized the usage of "Groundhog Day" to mean something is happening again and again.

    I'm Dan Friedell.

    Hai Do wrote this report for VOA Learning English.


    Words in This Story

    groundhog –n. a mammal that lives in the ground, eats grass and bites wood

    top hat –n. a tall head covering, or hat, that was traditionally worn at very formal events in the United States and Europe

    bless –v. to make something holy by saying a special prayer

    candle ­­–n. wax that is formed into a shape with a piece of string in it that can be burned to provide light