Why is Groundhog Day a Thing?
On February 2, a group of men dressed in black suits with matching top hats, black bowties and colorful scarves wrapped around their necks huddled around a tall tree stump labeled “Phil,” each puff of breath visible in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania’s cold air. Cameras flashed and cheers rang as the men placed a large rodent sniffing himself on the stump.
The rodent sniffed a little longer before one of the men lifted him off the stump. Another man stood beside him, a scroll in hand, ready to declare the results of Groundhog Day 2011. “[Punxsutawney Phil] proclaimed, ‘The Steelers are going to the Super Bowl!’” the man said. “[He] surveyed his surroundings carefully and found that there was no shadow around, so an early spring it will be.”
It was common knowledge the Steelers were going to the Super Bowl last week after they won against the Jets. And we’re supposed to trust this rodent to predict the weather?
A blizzard with snowfalls of up to two feet and drifts five to 10 feet is currently hitting parts of the country. In Chicago, people are abandoning their cars on main roads because the snow is too heavy to drive through. Poor Woodstock Willie of Woodstock, Illinois couldn’t even come out of his hole on February 2 to predict a short winter due to the snow. In the Northeast, inches of ice are causing schools to close.
Five of NYC’s top 10 snowfalls — a city not usually known for its snowstorms — have occurred in the past 10 years. In 2009, NYC public schools closed for the first time in five years, with another few snow days in 2010. A major storm on December 26, 2010, shut the city down. Last week, on January 27, 19.0 inches of snow accumulated in Central Park. Each winter appears to be getting progressively worse — how could any groundhog think spring is coming early?
Mike Johnston, vice president of the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club’s Inner Circle, told the Los Angeles Times the famous groundhog’s prediction has nothing to do with Americans sick of winter. “There is no question that Phil is capable of feeling empathy,” he said, “but he is absolutely incapable of error.”
Johnston’s words offer little assurance the snow will cease to fall early this year, however. Out of Phil’s 115 predictions since 1887, only 37 percent have been correct, according to the StormFax Weather Almanac. Of the 24 other groundhogs that offered predictions this year, 10 disagreed with Phil.
Who’s to say Punxsutawney Phil isn‘t a fraud? Although some of Phil’s supporters believe he is 121 years old, groundhogs have a typical lifespan of six years in the wild, 10 in captivity. The longest groundhog lifespan was 14 years, according to the University of Michigan’s Museum of Zoology. The groundhog people cheered for in 2011 is probably not the same Phil that predicted a long winter in 1887. Just because one groundhog got it right over 100 years ago doesn’t mean they all do — and the weather shows it.
(Note: This piece was previously written, but didn’t have a home.)