The history and accuracy of Punxsutawney Phil

Weather Wednesday

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WIAT) — Every year on Feb. 2, you’ll find thousands of people in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, anxiously waiting to see whether or not Phil will see his shadow.

If he sees his shadow, we can expect six more weeks of winter weather. No shadow means warmer temperatures and an early Spring. 

And what’s Phil’s track record? According to the National Centers for Environmental Information (NCEI), he’s only gotten it right about 40% of the time in the past 10 years. The agency conducted its research by comparing the nation’s temperatures with forecasts to check the accuracy of the groundhog’s forecast.

In Phil’s defense, forecasting for the entire country isn’t easy because of all of the regional climates. 

Here’s a look at the history of Groundhog Day. According to the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club, Groundhog Day is most commonly associated with Candlemas Day, a Christian holiday where people bring candles to church on Feb. 2 to have them blessed. Those that celebrated Candlemas Day believed this would bring them blessings to their home for the remainder of the winter. 

Eventually, an English folk song mentions the connection to weather forecasting with the lyrics:

 “If Candlemas be fair and bright,
come, winter, have another flight;
If Candlemas brings clouds and rain,
Go winter, and come not again.”

How did the groundhog become a part of the tradition? The Germans were the ones to introduce a hedgehog to the tradition. If the hedgehog saw his shadow on Candlemas Day, there would be a second winter. As Germans came to the United States, the hedgehog became a groundhog and the rest is history.


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