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Groundhog Day – Why Do We Love it So Much?

By Joe Joyce, Meteorologist, WBZ-TV
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Punxsutawney Phil.  (File photo by Jeff Swensen/Getty Images)

Punxsutawney Phil. (File photo by Jeff Swensen/Getty Images)

BOSTON (CBS) – Pennsylvania’s famous groundhog Punxsutawney Phil saw his shadow Thursday, predicting six more weeks of winter.

So why do we love Groundhog Day so much?

Forget the Satellites, the Super Doppler radars, the fancy HD graphics, or even the Farmer’s Almanac.

Check: Current Conditions | Weather Map Center | Interactive Radar

Today is the day where we tell all the weather forecasters “You’ve had your turn.”

Sure, our accuracy can be good when the weather acts in our favor, but there is something special about a day when we as a nation turn to a rodent for hope and guidance on the what to expect from the weather.

Now I know how Bill Murray feels.

Groundhog Day is now memorialized by Congress, officially on most calendars, and celebrated by millions around the globe.

Somehow this has become legitimate holiday.

I suppose we are all the better for it?

Believe it or not, Groundhog day is steep in tradition which dates all the way back into ancient European history.

February 2nd is a day known as the mid-point between the Winter solstice and the Spring Equinox.

To celebrate this day, churches would offer blessings and hand out candles which they would light in ceremonies. A symbol of light in the darkness of winter. This became know as Candlemas Day.

It was the Germans who brought in the weather, and the rodent for that matter, into Candlemas Day.

They said, if Candlemas day was sunny, a hedgehog, badger, or bear would cast a shadow which would mean six more weeks of winter.

“If Candlemas be fair and bright, winter has another fight.

If Candlemas brings clouds and rain, winter will not come again.”

This tradition made it’s way across the Atlantic into America where it has found a home in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania.

The earliest American reference to Groundhog Day can be found dating back to February 4, 1841 from Morgantown, Berks County, Pennsylvania storekeeper James Morris’ diary:

“Last Tuesday, the 2nd, was Candlemas day, the day on which, according to the Germans, the Groundhog peeps out of his winter quarters and if he sees his shadow he pops back for another six weeks nap, but if the day be cloudy he remains out, as the weather is to be moderate.”

Because Groundhogs are a more native species and in larger numbers than the hedgehog or badger, it has become the official weather forecaster for the U.S.

But I keep coming back to the question – why do we want to believe this rodent who is technically part of the squirrel family?

Just how accurate is Punxsutawney Phil?

Leave it to the meteorologists to cut this groundhog down to size.

From data supplied from the Stormfax Almanac, Phil has seen his shadow 100 times now (meaning six more weeks of winter) and not seen his shadow only 16 times (predicting an early spring).

The National Climactic Data center says Phil’s overall prediction accuracy is around 39-percent.

But that does not matter to the proponents of Groundhog Day.

They see the groundhog as being much more accurate than even some of the local weather forecasters.

In fact , Phil’s accuracy rate may be better if he lived in New England where winter has a tendency to last longer into spring.

But one forecast from one groundhog can not be right for everyone.

Many regions across the nation have their own weather.

So there are others getting in on the act with all the pomp and circumstance of Groundhog Day.

There is Woodstock Willie from Woodstock, Illinois, Staten Island Chuck who they say has had an 80-percent accuracy since the 1980’s, and General Beauregarde Lee from Lilburn Georgia.

ms g Groundhog Day   Why Do We Love it So Much?

Joe Joyce with "Ms. G."

And finally in Massachusetts, it’s the one and only Ms. G from Drumlin Farm who has been recognized officially as the state’s groundhog.

Ms. G did not see her shadow Thursday, meaning an early Spring for us here!

Take that Punxsatawney Phil!

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