Groundhog Day: The importance of fur-bearing weather forecasters - Hawaii News Now - KGMB and KHNL

Groundhog Day: The importance of fur-bearing weather forecasters

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Punxsutawney Phil will be greeted by a record crowd this year, according to visitPA.com. (Courtesy of Punxsutawney Groundhog Club) Punxsutawney Phil will be greeted by a record crowd this year, according to visitPA.com. (Courtesy of Punxsutawney Groundhog Club)
Though Phil is the most famous of the weather-predicting animals, he is not alone. (Courtesy of Punxsutawney Groundhog Club) Though Phil is the most famous of the weather-predicting animals, he is not alone. (Courtesy of Punxsutawney Groundhog Club)
(Source: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's National Climatic Data Center) (Source: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's National Climatic Data Center)

(RNN) - In his classic poem, Fog, Carl Sandburg wrote, "The fog comes on little cat feet."

On Groundhog Day, Feb. 2, thousands hope that spring comes on little groundhog feet.

The most famous furry weather forecaster, Punxsutawney Phil, emerges from Gobbler's Knob on that day to predict whether spring will come early.

According to tradition, if Phil sees his shadow, winter will last six more weeks. If he doesn't see his shadow, spring will come early.

Phil fanatics

Groundhog Day is more than an animal popping out of his hole for the people of Punxsutawney, PA.

Accurate or not, Punxsutawney Phil's prognostications have put the city, touted as the "Weather Capital of the World," on the map. And Punxsutawney puts its best furry face forward every February.

According to The Punxsutawney Groundhog Club, Phil is attended by a group of top-hatted men called The Inner Circle, local dignitaries who are responsible for the maintenance of Phil and the planning of the Groundhog Day events.

There are a full schedule of events surrounding Groundhog Day, including breakfast with Phil and a Groundhog Ball.

Punxsutawney's chamber of commerce encourages visitors to find all 32 Phantastic Phils - groundhogs created by artists that are scattered throughout the city.

According to visitPA.com, crowds at Gobbler's Knob has numbered as high as 30,000, and they predict record numbers of Phil fanatics this year because Feb. 2 falls on a weekend.

This year, Gobbler's Knob is tapping into the power of Foursquare, a location-oriented social media website, to offer an extra incentive for visitors.

Foursquare users can unlock the 2013 Pennsylvania Groundhog Day Foursquare badge at Gobblers Knob, which will grant them special toy in a customized box when they show their check-in to the attendant at the Groundhog Day RV.

Prognosticator or pretender?

Despite the fanfare, Phil fails to accurately foretell when winter's chill will end, claims National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's National Climatic Data Center.

According to government data, since 1993, the U.S. national temperature has been above normal 10 times in February, 11 times in March, below normal six times in February, three times in March, and near normal three times in February and five times in March.

Plus, the U.S., being a large, diverse land mass, doesn't experience uniform climatic trends.

"It really isn't a 'bright' idea to take a measure such as a groundhog's shadow and use it as a predictive meteorological tool for the entire United States," the group stated.

According to Stormfax, Phil has only been correct 39 percent of the time since the 1880s.

History of the 'hog

The Groundhog Day celebration began with the Germans, Pennsylvania's earliest settlers who brought with them the legend of Candlemas Day, the Christian festival of lights which marks the halfway point between winter solstice and the spring equinox. 

The legend states, "For as the sun shines on Candlemas day, so far will the snow swirl in May..." The settlers found that plentiful groundhogs "were the most intelligent and sensible animal to carry on the legend of Candlemas Day."

Punxsutawney has been celebrating Groundhog Day since 1886, according to the groundhog club website. The groundhog himself was named after King Phillip.

However, animals at dozens of other locales also predict the weather on Groundhog Day.

Outside of Pennsylvania, celebrations occur in Maryland; Marion, Ohio, with Buckeye Chuck; and at Wiarton, Ontario.

Birmingham, AL, has Birmingham Bill, a groundhog that delivers its prediction at the Birmingham Zoo. Atlanta has General Beauregard Lee, Raleigh, NC has Sir Walter Wally.

Paula the Penguin from Louisville, KY, also provides a Groundhog Day prediction, although she is most renowned for defecating on the state Senate floor.

Woodstock, IL, outside of Chicago, also has a vibrant Groundhog day celebration, as that city was the location where the 1993 movie Groundhog Day with Bill Murray was filmed.

Events at Woodstock include a woodcarving demonstration, a symposium to discuss the deeper meaning of the movie, a third-grade art contest, a dinner and dance and the naming of a King and Queen, according to the Woodstock Groundhog Day website.

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