An Animal That Predicts the Weather?

A quick history of Groundhog Day

By Melissa Hucal January 29, 2024
Six more weeks of winter or an early spring? On February 2nd, we won’t rely on our local meteorologist for the forecast. Instead we’ll wait for the prediction from a groundhog.

The tradition of Groundhog Day began in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania in 1887 but its origins date back to an early Christian tradition in Europe called Candlemas. That’s when leaders in the church would bless and distribute candles needed in homes for winter. It was thought that the number of candles distributed was an indication of how long and cold the winters would be. In Germany, a hedgehog was added to the mix. If the hedgehog cast a shadow on Candlemas Day, it would mean long weeks of cold and snow ahead.

Germans were among the first settlers in the Pennsylvania area. They noted that there were many groundhogs in the region that resembled the hedgehogs in Europe, so they became the animal of choice to carry on the tradition.

A little more about groundhogs: Also called woodchucks, they hibernate beginning in late fall and continue to sleep throughout most of the winter. In February, male groundhogs come out of their burrows to look for a mate. It was this emergence that most likely started the practice of weather prediction, even though the groundhogs return to hibernation until March.

Punxsutawney Phil, named for the area that originated Groundhog Day in the U.S., is the most famous groundhog. Since 1887, he has seen his shadow 97 times and has not seen it 15 times (nine years were not recorded). According to professional meteorologists, this is only a 39 percent success rate.

But regardless of whether the groundhog’s predictions are accurate or not, the tradition gives us something to look forward to - Spring is just around the corner!

What do you think? Will we have more winter or early spring this year? Comment below and let us know!

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