Groundhog Day is celebrated every year on February 2, and in 2020, it falls on Sunday. It’s a day when townsfolk in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, gather in Gobbler’s Knob to watch as an unsuspecting furry marmot is plucked from his burrow to predict the weather for the rest of the winter. But anyone who bought a copy of the Farmers’ Almanac, or checked our extended forecast, has known what’s in store for the rest of the winter since August!
The Groundhog Day Shadow vs. No Shadow Folklore
First, people often get confused about what it means if the groundhog sees his shadow or not. Let’s clear it up. According to folklore:
- If Phil does see his shadow (meaning the Sun is shining), winter will not end early, and we’ll have another 6 weeks left of it.
- If Phil doesn’t see his shadow (cloudy) we’ll have an early spring.
What Does The Farmers’ Almanac Say?
Whether or not you follow the groundhog, or simply enjoy the folklore (don’t worry, we don’t mind), we’re here to tell you: winter isn’t going anywhere any time soon—our long-range predictions say winter is here for the long haul.
Key Dates We’re Red-Flagging
In our extended forecast, we mentioned that spring will be slow to start with winter lingering across the Midwest, Great Lakes, Northeast, and New England. Occasional wet snow and unseasonably “Polar Coaster” chilly conditions that will hang on for a ride that extends into April!
No matter what the weather, spring will officially arrive with the Vernal Equinox on March 19, 2020, however, the warmer, spring-like weather may not arrive until a little later.
How Accurate Are The Groundhog’s Predictions?
Members of Punxsutawney Phil’s “Inner Circle” claim his predictions are 100% accurate. Unfortunately, that claim isn’t 100% accurate. According to sources that track the marmot, that number is more like 39%. Since Punxsutawney Phil first began prognosticating the weather back in 1887, he has predicted an early end to winter 18 times. In 2011, the groundhog predicted an early spring only for the eastern half of the U.S. to get pounded with snow into mid-March!
Unlike the groundhog, the Farmers’ Almanac uses a mathematical and astronomical formula to make our long-range weather predictions. We look at sunspot activity, tidal action of the Moon, positions of the planets, and many other factors to carefully craft a year’s worth of weather forecasts. Fans of the Almanac say our weather forecasts are accurate 80-85% of the time.
Even though he is wrong on occasion, we still respect the groundhog and a “holiday” in which we are reminded to put down our high-tech gadgets and consult with nature. We also think this year he’ll see the light—and his shadow—and agree with us that winter will stick around for the duration.
The History of Groundhog Day
The date of the celebration coincides with the medieval feast of Candlemas, and its pre-Christian predecessor, Imbolc, a day that is also rich in folklore. An old Scottish prophecy foretells that sunny weather on Candlemas means a long winter. The tradition is recounted in this old Scottish poem:
As the light grows longer
The cold grows stronger
If Candlemas be fair and bright
Winter will have another flight
If Candlemas be cloud and snow
Winter will be gone and not come again
A farmer should on Candlemas day
Have half his corn and half his hay
On Candlemas day if thorns hang a drop
You can be sure of a good pea crop.
From Hedgehogs to Groundhogs
Ancient Europeans had long held that badgers and hedgehogs could foretell the weather, and came to combine this belief with the rituals surrounding Candlemas. After emigrating to Southeastern Pennsylvania, early German-American settlers substituted groundhogs, which were plentiful in their new homeland.
Punxsutawney Phil is the focal point of the oldest and largest annual Groundhog Day celebration, held in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, every year since 1886. Members of Phil’s “Inner Circle” claim that he is now 130 years old, thanks to a magical life-extending serum they feed him each year—and that his predictions are 100 percent accurate.
Other Groundhog Forecasters
Phil may be the most famous, but there are a number of other groundhogs that hold court at celebrations across North America, they include:
- Balzac Billy in Balzac, Alberta
- Brandon Bob in Brandon, Manitoba, Canada
- Buckeye Chuck in Ohio
- Dunkirk Dave in Dunkirk, New York
- Gary the Groundhog in Kleinburg, Ontario
- General Beauregard Lee in Atlanta, Georgia
- Holtsville Hal, Suffolk County, Long Island, N.Y. (See video below!)
- Jimmy the Groundhog in Sun Prairie, Wisconsin
- Malverne Mel and Melissa in Malverne, New York
- Octoraro Orphie in Quarryville, Pennsylvania
- Pardon Me Pete in Tampa, Florida
- Shubenacadie Sam in Shubenacadie, Nova Scotia, Canada
- Sir Walter Wally in Raleigh, N.C.,
- Spanish Joe of Spanish, Ontario
- Staten Island Chuck in New York City
- Wiarton Willie in Wiarton, Ontario, Canada
9 Facts About Groundhogs!
- Groundhogs, also known as woodchucks, are a type of marmot, large rodents related to squirrels.
- Groundhogs have a large habitat, extending throughout most of North America, from Alaska to as far south as Alabama.
- In the wild, groundhogs usually live two to three years but have been known to live up to six years. In captivity, they can live much longer. The original Wiarton Willie—one of Canada’s most famous prognosticating groundhogs—lived to be 22 years old.
- Groundhogs are typically 16-26 inches long, and typically weigh 4 to 9 pounds, but they can weigh much more — Punxsutawney Phil weighs 20 lbs!
- Groundhogs actually have two coats of fur: a thick, wooly, grey undercoat and a longer coat of silky brownish hairs. This helps to keep them warm throughout the year.
- Groundhogs prefer to eat wild grasses, leaves, berries, and, as any gardener who’s ever had one around knows, food crops. They will also occasionally eat nuts, insects, grubs, snails, and other small animals.
- The average groundhog can move approximately 700 pounds of dirt when digging its burrow. Burrows can be up to 46 feet long and up to 5 feet underground.
- Groundhogs hibernate during the winter, usually between October and March or April, depending on the climate.
- If in danger, a groundhog will produce a high-pitched alarm whistle to warn the rest of its family. This is how they got the nickname “whistle pig” in some regions. Other groundhog sounds include squeals, barks, and tooth grinding.
Test your knowledge of groundhogs with our Groundhog Day Quiz!