These 2 groundhogs have conflicting weather predictions — so take your pick
On the day when America puts its faith in the paws of furry forecasters, two of the country's most prominent groundhogs offered dueling predictions for what the weather has in store.
In Pennsylvania, Punxsutawney Phil ascended from a tree stump and placed his bet on six more weeks of winter. In New York, Charles G. Hogg — aka Staten Island Chuck — emerged from his burrow to see his shadow and an early spring.
Both have long histories and mixed track records when it comes to predicting the weather. While Punxsutawney Phil's handlers — a group of top hat-clad gentlemen known as the Inner Circle — say he's always right (and that he is the "only true weather forecasting groundhog"), data from the Stormfax Almanac puts that number closer to 39%. The Staten Island Zoo says its star groundhog has an 85% accuracy rate.
Each groundhog made the same prediction as they did last year, when the U.S. experienced an unusually frigid February and a warmer-than-average March, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. So, glass half full, they were both kind of right.
Either way, sunshine and flowers aren't exactly imminent this year: The Groundhog Day ceremonies happen to be sandwiched between two major winter storms in a single week. A major blizzard brought up to 2 feet of snow to some places in the Northeast over the weekend, while states from Texas to Maine are bracing for another storm in the days ahead.
We watched the ceremonies so you don't have to (but they're fun, if you want to)
Punxsutawny Phil's forecast followed a significant amount of pomp, circumstance and techno music.
This is the 136th year that the so-called "Seer of Seers, the Prognosticator of Prognosticators" made his famous prediction at Gobbler's Knob. It also marked a triumphant return from last year's virtual pandemic ceremony, with the video stream panning over a massive crowd of chilly-looking spectators. Some were holding "PHIL" signs and others were wearing groundhog hats.
The crowd bundled up and bobbed along to the music (either to stay warm or to dance), which included an EDM remix of "Uptown Funk" and a lively rendition of "I Got Bills" with reimagined lyrics about, you guessed it, Phil. ("I got Phil, it's Groundhog Day, so we're gonna dance, dance, dance the night away.")
Onstage, a group of sweatshirt-clad girls — introduced as the Philettes — danced for the crowd, as several Inner Circle members emceed and Miss Pennsylvania danced in a furry coat and sash.
As the sun rose through the bare trees, the performers left the stage and cleared a path through the crowd for current and former Inner Circle members to walk through. The crowd, presumably fully warmed up, chanted things like Phil's name and "Six more weeks."
After introductions, Jeff Lundy, a Punxsutawney Groundhog Club member and Inner Circle president — and the only person who can speak "Groundhoguese," thanks to magical powers passed down through a wooden cane reportedly whittled by Phil himself more than a century ago — made brief remarks.
"When I got up this morning, my comment was going to be that this is the largest increase in one year we've ever had, but when I got here and I looked out, I'm going to tell you this is the largest midweek crowd in the history of Groundhog Day," he said, adding that multiple countries and every U.S. state were most likely represented in the crowd.
After leading the spectators in a toast to Phil, Lundy retrieved the groundhog from inside his iconic stump, hoisted him up for all to see, and placed him on the top, where there were two scrolls each representing winter and spring. The groundhog chose one, which was then read out loud.
"Winter has been bleak, dark and bereft of hope, yet winter is just another step in the cycle of life," the scroll said (sounds familiar). "As I look over the faces of the true believers from around the world, I bask in the warmth of your hearts, I couldn't imagine a better fate with my shadow I have cast than a long, lustrous six more weeks of winter."
Over at the Staten Island Zoo, a small group of zoo and borough (burrow?) officials hosted a virtual ceremony, featuring a sizeable number of groundhog puns and a pre-recorded video message from New York City Mayor Eric Adams.
The hosts also noted that Staten Island Chuck has traditionally had a rocky relationship with mayors — the mascot famously bit Michael Bloomberg in 2009 and was fatally dropped by Bill de Blasio in 2014.
"I think I can speak for all New Yorkers when I say, Chuck, please don't see your shadow," Adams said from City Hall. "Bring on the sunny days."
Richmond County District Attorney Michael McMahon — Staten Island's chief law enforcement officer — led the proceedings, which included paying tribute to the city police officers recently killed in action.
He and zoo officials coaxed Chuck out from his house, where the groundhog stood in the doorway for a few moments. His observations, and the cloudy sky, led McMahon to announce that Chuck had seen his shadow and was predicting an early spring.
There are plenty of other animal prognosticators in the U.S.
Groundhogs as a species are — surprise — not the most reliable meteorologists, as recent research confirms.
A study published last summer in a journal of the American Meteorological Society analyzed 530 unique groundhog predictions across 33 locations and found that spring onset was correctly predicted exactly 50% of the time.
"Using a novel phenological indicator of spring, this study determined, without a shadow of a doubt, that groundhog prognosticating abilities for the arrival of spring are no better than chance," researchers wrote.
They added that no one groundhog predicted the timing of spring "with any statistical significance," though some stood out for their records both successful and unsuccessful. For instance, Connecticut's Essex Ed and New Jersey's Stonewall Jackson were among those who made accurate predictions more than 70% of the time. Ohio's Buckeye Chuck and New York's Dunkirk Dave were among those who were wrong more than 70% of the time.
So while the battle between Phil and Chuck plays out for another year, it's worth noting that they're far from the only furry forecasters out there — and not all are groundhogs.
Tragically, as NPR reported Tuesday, New Jersey's famous "Milltown Mel" died just before Groundhog Day.
But many others are still doing their thing. Here's a non-exhaustive list:
A version of this story originally appeared in the Morning Edition live blog.
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