Weather: The shadowy view from Gobbler's Knob

Yesterday was Groundhog Day in America and 20,000 people gathered in Punxsutawney to await the prediction of the nation's favourite weather prophet: a woodchuck named Phil.

"The Great King of the Marmots rose from his burrow at first morning light: The sky was clear and the air was cool and the sun arose on the snowless hills. At 7.20, Phil came out and saw his shadow. Predicting Six More Weeks of Winter!"

That is how the Groundhog Day Homepage on the Internet reported a great American annual festival which took place yesterday. Every year, on the knoll known as Gobbler's Knob in the little town of Punxsutawney, Philadelphia, huge crowds gather on 2 February to await the appearance of Punxsutawney Phil, the groundhog with an allegedly infallible knack of predicting the weather. Yesterday, 20,000 had come to watch as he emerged from his electrically- heated burrow, looked for his shadow, then uttered his prediction - in Groundhogese - to an official of the Groundhog Club. The official then translated it for the benefit of the public.

According to the legend, if Punxsutawney Phil sees his shadow, he will scurry back into his burrow because it means six more weeks of winter. If he does not, then spring will shortly be upon us. Yesterday, Phil's prediction was greeted by boos from the large crowd. According to Bill Cooper, president of the Inner Circle of the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club, what Phil had said translated as: "As El Nino approaches our western shore and changes the weather patterns, I see my shadow. There will be six more weeks of winter."

This was the 112th forecast by Phil or his ancestors, and the 100th time another six weeks of winter has been forecast. However, records from the National Climatic Data Center in Asheville, North Carolina, show that his accuracy rate since 1980 is only about 59 per cent.

While Groundhog Day has been associated with Punxsutawney since the first prediction appeared in the local newspaper, The Punxsutawney Spirit, in 1886, the tradition dates back to the old Christian celebration of Candlemas Day - also 2 February - when the clergy blessed candles and gave them to the poor. The weather on that date was considered an important omen for the rest of the winter:

"If Candlemas be fair and bright,

Come, winter, have another flight

If Candlemas brings clouds and rain,

Go, winter, and come not again.

The ancient Germans translated that tradition into a belief that if the hedgehog saw its shadow on Candlemas Day, then winter would continue for another six weeks - which was the tale the original German settlers brought with them to Pennsylvania. There are, however, no hedgehogs in the Americas, but the groundhog - which was already revered by native Americans - was a good substitute. And so Candlemas Day became Groundhog Day - especially in the little town of Punxsutawney, which at the turn of the century declared itself the "Weather Capital of the World" and built a special home for its favourite groundhog on Gobbler's Knob. In 1993, Bill Murray starred in the film Groundhog Day and fame was assured.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookA delicious collection of 50 meaty main courses
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Business Development Executive / Sales - OTE £40,000

    £18000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing Insurance Bro...

    Recruitment Genius: Junior IT Support Technician

    £20000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Junior IT Support Technician ...

    Recruitment Genius: Junior / Graduate Front End Developer

    £20000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides actionabl...

    Guru Careers: Customer Support Advisor

    Negotiable depending on experience, plus benefits: Guru Careers: We are seekin...

    Day In a Page

    Solved after 200 years: the mysterious deaths of 3,000 soldiers from Napoleon's army

    Solved after 200 years

    The mysterious deaths of 3,000 soldiers from Napoleon's army
    Every regional power has betrayed the Kurds so Turkish bombing is no surprise

    Robert Fisk on the Turkey conflict

    Every regional power has betrayed the Kurds so Turkish bombing is no surprise
    Investigation into wreck of unidentified submarine found off the coast of Sweden

    Sunken sub

    Investigation underway into wreck of an unidentified submarine found off the coast of Sweden
    Instagram and Facebook have 'totally changed' the way people buy clothes

    Age of the selfie

    Instagram and Facebook have 'totally changed' the way people buy clothes
    Not so square: How BBC's Bloomsbury saga is sexing up the period drama

    Not so square

    How Virginia Woolf saga is sexing up the BBC period drama
    Rio Olympics 2016: The seven teenagers still carrying a torch for our Games hopes

    Still carrying the torch

    The seven teenagers given our Olympic hopes
    The West likes to think that 'civilisation' will defeat Isis, but history suggests otherwise

    The West likes to think that 'civilisation' will defeat Isis...

    ...but history suggests otherwise
    The bald truth: How one author's thinning hair made him a Wayne Rooney sympathiser

    The bald truth

    How thinning hair made me a Wayne Rooney sympathiser
    Froome wins second Tour de France after triumphant ride into Paris with Team Sky

    Tour de France 2015

    Froome rides into Paris to win historic second Tour
    Fifteen years ago, Concorde crashed, and a dream died. Today, the desire to travel faster than the speed of sound is growing once again

    A new beginning for supersonic flight?

    Concorde's successors are in the works 15 years on from the Paris crash
    I would never quit Labour, says Liz Kendall

    I would never quit party, says Liz Kendall

    Latest on the Labour leadership contest
    Froome seals second Tour de France victory

    Never mind Pinot, it’s bubbly for Froome

    Second Tour de France victory all but sealed
    Oh really? How the 'lowest form of wit' makes people brighter and more creative

    The uses of sarcasm

    'Lowest form of wit' actually makes people brighter and more creative
    A magazine editor with no vanity, and lots of flair

    No vanity, but lots of flair

    A tribute to the magazine editor Ingrid Sischy
    Foraging: How the British rediscovered their taste for chasing after wild food

    In praise of foraging

    How the British rediscovered their taste for wild food