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Groundhog prognostication: Spring will come early in US

GROUNDHOG DAY | 02 de febrero de 2020

Groundhog Day celebrations take place in US 

Groundhog Club Inner Circle member and handler A.J. Dererume (C) raises Punxsutawney Phil after the groundhog emerged from his burrow during the Groundhog Day celebration at Gobblers Knob in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, USA, 02 February, 2020. EFE/EPA/DAVID MAXWELL

Washington, Feb 2 (efe-epa).- Punxsutawney Phil, the most famous weather-predicting animal in the world, emerged from his burrow in the same-named town in Pennsylvania on Sunday and failed to see his shadow, thus ensuring - according to longstanding popular tradition - that spring will come early this year in the United States.

Every Feb. 2, thousands of people get up early to celebrate Groundhog Day on Gobbler's Knob, a hill on the outskirts of Punxsutawney, population just under 6,000 and located about 64 miles (104 km) north of Pittsburgh.

Under overcast skies, the masters of ceremony, wearing their traditional black top hats, pulled the groundhog from his cage at 7:30 am and held him up in the air to announce his prognostication.

"Spring will come early" proclaimed the master of ceremonies, claiming to be translating Phil's grunts.

The master of ceremonies and a number of other local dignitaries all belong to the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club Inner Circle, which organizes the annual ritual and feed and care for Phil during the remainder of the year.

It's unusual for Phil to predict an early spring: this is just the 20th time that he - and all the other groundhogs who have served in that capacity, all of them dubbed with the same name - has been unable to spot his shadow since the Groundhog Day tradition began in 1887.

Legend says that, when there is enough sunlight for the animal to "see" his shadow, it will retreat into its burrow and winter will last for six more weeks, but if he cannot see it, due to cloudy weather, then spring is on the way.

The groundhog - Marmota monax, also known as a woodchuck - has predicted six more weeks of winter in 103 of the 124 years on record, although the documents covering one particular decade have been lost.

Nevertheless, groundhog meteorological forecasts have not been completely reliable, according to the Stormfax Web site, which specializes in the popular tradition, and Phil's predictions have been correct just 39 percent of the time, a rate significantly worse than mere chance would dictate, and suggesting that perhaps the tradition should be "reversed" - see shadow, early spring; but no shadow, a longer winter.

Last year, Phil also predicted an early spring, but temperatures in February and March were lower than the average in the continental US, according to an analysis prepared by the country's National Weather Service.

This year, meteorologists at Accuweather predict that the weather will continue to be typical for late winter over the next six weeks, with more storms coming to the northeastern US.

The popular 1993 film "Groundhog Day," starring comedian Bill Murray, catapulted the Punxsutawney celebration - and Phil - to worldwide fame and renown.

But Phil is not the only groundhog with meteorological pretensions - or talents, depending on how you view things. Other weather-forecasting woodchucks in North America include, for instance, General Beau Lee (Atlanta), Wiarton Willie (Ontario, Canada), Sir Walter Wally (Raleigh, North Carolina), Jimmy (Wisconsin), Chuck (New York), Birmingham Bill (Birmingham, Alabama) and Potomac Phil, a stuffed groundhog, in Washington DC.

In the 5th century, the Celts believed that animals had certain supernatural powers between the winter equinox and the spring solstice, that is starting 40 days after Christmas and lasting until 40 days before Easter.

According to German and French tradition, when groundhogs and bears come out of their hibernation burrows too early, they become frightened when they see their own shadows and return to their winter naps for four to six more weeks.

In the Christian liturgical calendar, Feb. 2 is Candelmas - otherwise known as the Feast of the Presentation of Jesus Christ and the Feast of the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Many European proverbs or sayings hold that if that day is sunny, one may expect winter to last somewhat longer.

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Groundhog Day celebrations take place in US

Groundhog Day celebrations took place at Gobblers Knob in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, United States, when Punxsutawney Phil, the weather-predicting groundhog, did not see his shadow and predicted an early spring.

A visual story by David Maxwell

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