Groundhog Day Background and Folklore - NOAA
Groundhog graphic courtesy of NOAA/NCDC
Every February 2nd crowds gather at Gobbler's Knob, in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania. A groundhog, Punxsutawney Phil, burrowed inside his heated simulated tree trunk, is about to thrust or be pulled into the limelight at about 7:25 am once again. The gates open at 3:00 a.m., followed by live entertainment, music and a pre-dawn fireworks display helps to ignite (hopefully not literally!) the crowd that has gathered in anticipation of Phil's forecast. The awe-inspiring fireworks are set to lively music, which is just what the crowd generally needs on a cold rural Pennsylvania morning. Phil, and others like him, makes the most celebrated weather forecast of the year usually around the crack of dawn. Has spring sprung when Phil emerges from his burrow and doesn't see his shadow? Or should he scurry back into his burrow for six more weeks of winter weather if skies are clear and fair?
Groundhog Day has its origins in an ancient celebration of a point mid-way between the Winter Solstice and the Spring Equinox. Superstition has it that fair weather was seen as forbearance of a stormy and cold second half to winter. The early Christians in Europe established the custom of Candlemas Day, when the clergy would bless candles and people would light them in each window of their homes to ward off the darkness of mid-winter.
But the legend of the February 2nd forecast also persisted, as captured in this old English saying:
If Candlemas be fair and bright,
Winter has another flight.
If Candlemas brings clouds and rain,
Winter will not come again.
The trail of groundhog history actually leads back to Clymer H. Freas, city editor of the Punxsutawney Spirit newspaper. In 1887, he was inspired by a group of local hunters and gourmets who held a groundhog hunt followed by a picnic barbecue of, well, you know. Anyway, Freas thought it so much fun that he wrote up the group as the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club and went on to promote the Punxsutawney Groundhog as the official weather forecaster. As he embellished the story year after year, other newspapers picked it up and soon everyone looked to Punxsutawney Phil for the critical prediction of when spring would return to the nation.
Punxsutawney Phil sees his Shadow - Six more weeks of Winter