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Punxsutawney Phil, the groundhog that lives in this Pennsylvania town and predicts the weather, gets it wrong most of the time

Tijana Radeska
Groundhog Day 2013 in Punxsutawney featuring Phil . Photo Credit: Anthony Quintano CC BY 2.0

Punxsutawney Phil is probably the most famous forecaster in the world, even though he forecasts the weather only once a year. The world’s best-known groundhog lives in the town of Punxsutawney, in Pennsylvania.

The movie Groundhog Day portrays Phil. And indeed, there is a Groundhog Day celebrated on the second of February when Phil predicts the weather for the year. Groundhog Day is recognized in the United States and Canada, but each state has its own prognosticating rodents. Privately, Phil lives in the town’s library with his wife, Phyllis. He has predicted the weather every year since 1886, they say (well of course not the same groundhog, but more on that later).

Although he has been wrong most of the time, Phil does a hard job predicting the weather each year, so, in return, he and his wife are taken care of. They are not only allowed to live in the town’s library without any expenses, but there is also a Groundhog Club, better known as the Inner Circle, which numbers 15 members (16, including Phil) who take care of their beloved groundhog and administers his needs. They also plan the big ceremony each year when they all wear stylish top hats and tuxedos.

Andie MacDowell with a groundhog, 2008 Author: anoldent CC BY-SA 2.0

Andie MacDowell with a groundhog, 2008 Author: anoldent CC BY-SA 2.0

The ceremony begins early in the morning, before sunrise at a very special location known as “Gobbler’s Knob.” At a certain moment, Phil, known in Punxsutawney as “the seer of seers,” is displayed to the crowd and welcomed with noise and applause by the newscasters and onlookers who are eager to hear the groundhog’s forecast.

Now, his forecasting depends on whether Phil sees his shadow or not. If he does, that means a long winter. If he fails to see his shadow, that means early spring. And although he has been around ever since 1886, he still hasn’t learned to stand up and declare the future in English, so apparently, the Inner Circle learned a special language to communicate with Phil, known as “Groundhogese.” Phil whispers his forecast to the Club’s president in Groudhogese.

The Groundhog Day celebration has its roots in Germanic and Celtic folklore, according to which a hibernating animal emerges from its hole on February 2. If it is cloudy, the animal would most likely fail to see its shadow, and it would leave the burrow, so the people will know that there will be an early spring. While if it is sunny, the animal would probably see its shadow and get back to its burrow, and it would mean that more weeks of winter await. In German folklore, the forecasting animal is a hedgehog, but when immigrants settled in Pennsylvania, they probably adapted their tradition on the local fauna.

The lifespan of a groundhog is around six years, but the members of the Groundhog Club claim that there is only one Phil who lives on since 1886 to predict the weather and that all the other groundhogs are impostors. Phil stays young thanks to a magical potion, the “Groundhog Punch,” of which he drinks just a sip and only once a year at the Groundhog Picnic that takes place every summer. And each sip is said to extend Phil’s life for seven more years. It means that even if Phil misses his share for six years, he will still be fine and willing to do some forecasting. However, it is said that he never misses it, because he really likes the punch.

Miniature replica at MRRV, Carnegie Science Center, Pittsburgh Author: Raunaq Gupta CC BY-SA 3.0

Miniature replica at MRRV, Carnegie Science Center, Pittsburgh Author: Raunaq Gupta CC BY-SA 3.0

It is said that the seer of seers was originally been called “Br’er Groundhog,” but was later named after King Philip. The members of the “Inner Circle” claim that besides his every day groundhog businesses, Phil enjoys traveling. The purpose of his travels has always been meeting some celebrity figure such as President Ronald Reagan, and Oprah.

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As for the facts, Phil has been wrong in predicting the weather most of the time. According to some sources, he gets it right only 39 percent of the time, and to another, 21 percent. And it is not known how many groundhogs have taken the role of Punxsutawney Phil, so we might as well go along and believe that there is only one.