By Christy Blevins
Six more weeks of winter, said groundhog meteorologist Punxsutawney Phil on February 2. But who gave this groundhog the job of predicting the weather; how did the iconic Groundhog Day come about? The first Groundhog Day was held in 1887 (on Feb 2.) and involved the regular weather forecast along with groundhog hunting parties and groundhog picnics. Meaning a picnic made of groundhog dishes, not eating with said groundhog.
This tradition of animals predicting the weather stems from the German immigrants who settled Pennsylvania. In “the old country”, people relied heavily on bears and badgers to predict the end of winter. Like the current tradition, if the badger saw its shadow there would be more bad winter weather. For a long time, Europeans had marked Feb. 2 as the midpoint of winter and chose that day to celebrate the arrival of spring. This celebration was called Candlemas Day.
When the immigrants settled Pennsylvania, instead of bears and badgers, they chose to use the local grumpy groundhog. Unfortunately for Phil’s ancestors, the groundhog also became a regional delicacy. Soon after, the status of Punxsutawney Phil rose and the locals stopped hosting groundhog hunts and, obviously, took groundhog off the menu. Fun fact though, the “Groundhog punch” that used to be served in about 128 years ago, has now transformed into the magical elixir that keeps Phil alive and young.
In his many lives, Phil has become famous. He has been through The Great Depression, both World Wars, and has met many celebrities.
So now we know why Phil is qualified to predict the weather. From a long line of German and ancient Roman traditions this groundhog (yes, Phil is 127 years old**) knows when the weather will change or stay the same. With his track record of about 39 percent accuracy, Phil has competition with New York City’s own groundhog Chuck who has a record of 82 percent accuracy.
Fortunately for Phil, he is the most popular and well-liked weather predictor for Groundhog Day. Even though new traditions, or groundhogs, are on the way, the tradition of Groundhog Day will always be rooted in the ancestral history.
**Disclaimer: The life span for groundhogs is actually only 6-8 years.