UNITED STATES NEWS

Punxsutawney Phil predicts an early spring at Groundhog Day festivities

Feb 2, 2024, 6:00 AM | Updated: 9:16 am

Groundhog Club handler A.J. Dereume holds Punxsutawney Phil, the weather prognosticating groundhog,...

Groundhog Club handler A.J. Dereume holds Punxsutawney Phil, the weather prognosticating groundhog, during the 138th celebration of Groundhog Day on Gobbler's Knob in Punxsutawney, Pa., Friday, Feb. 2, 2024. (AP Photo/Barry Reeger)

(AP Photo/Barry Reeger)

PUNXSUTAWNEY, Pa. (AP) — Punxsutawney Phil predicted an early spring on an overcast Friday morning at Gobbler’s Knob in Pennsylvania, the scene of the largest and best-known Groundhog Day celebration in the United States.

The annual event is a tongue-in-cheek ritual in which Phil’s handlers, members of a club with roots in the late 19th century, reveal whether the groundhog has seen his shadow.

Just after sunrise Friday, the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club announced Phil did not see his shadow, which will usher in early springlike weather. The groundhog seeing his shadow presages six more weeks of winter, according to the group.

Before the announcement, President Tom Dunkel, in the traditional top hat and tuxedo worn by the club’s inner circle, explained that his cane, handed down from previous presidents, including his father, gave him the power to speak “Groundhog-ese” and that Phil would tell him which of two scrolls to use. At Dunkel’s direction, the crowd helped fire-up the groundhog with repeated chants of “Phil!” before a club member pulled the groundhog from a door in a stump on the stage and held it aloft.

Dunkel and other club members leaned over the stump where the groundhog sat before Dunkel pointed to one of two scrolls with the cane and announced that they had a decision.

Vice President Dan McGinley read the decision, written in verse and filled with quips about the groundhog’s envy for humans’ opposable thumbs and hopes to garner some Punxsutawney Phil write-in votes in 2024, from the chosen scroll and announced, “Glad tidings on this Groundhog Day, an early spring is on the way!”

About 10,000 people have made their way in recent years to Punxsutawney, where festivities begin in the dead of night and culminate in the midwinter forecast. A bundled-up crowd, some wearing groundhog-themed hats, watched musical performances and fireworks as they waited for sunrise and the appearance of Punxsutawney Phil.

Pennsylvania Gov. Josh Shapiro took the stage before Phil to urge people around the world watching the festivities to come to Punxsutawney next year. Shapiro also announced the famed groundhog is the new official meteorologist for Pennsylvania.

“Punxsutawney is the center of the universe right now and I love that you’re all here,” Shapiro said.

Phil predicts more winter far more often than he sees an early spring, not a bad bet for February and March in western Pennsylvania. A federal agency took a look at his record last year and put his accuracy rate at about 40%.

As the morning progressed, something like a groundhog consensus emerged, backing Punxsutawney Phil’s prognostication of an early spring. Among more than a dozen reports of weather predicting groundhogs in the U.S. and Canada early Friday, 10 were on Phil’s side and just three warned of six more weeks of winter.

Octoraro Orphie in Quarryville, Pennsylvania, a rival of the Punxsutawney groundhog for more than a century, says the cold will be around for awhile. But groundhogs in Staten Island, New York; Nova Scotia and Quebec in Canada; Connecticut, Georgia, Illinois and Ohio were all on Phil’s side — an early spring.

The tradition of celebrating the midpoint between the shortest day of the year on the winter solstice and the spring equinox goes back many centuries in European farm life.

There are more than a dozen active groundhog clubs in Pennsylvania, some dating back to the 1930s, and weather-predicting groundhogs have appeared in at least 28 U.S. states and Canadian provinces.

The 1993 blockbuster film “Groundhog Day,” starring Bill Murray, fueled interest in Punxsutawney Phil and inspired informal observations far and wide.

When he’s not making his annual prognostication, Phil lives in a customized space beside the Punxsutawney Memorial Library, with a window where library patrons can check out his burrow. Back in 2009, library workers said Phil had somehow managed to escape three times, climbing into the library ceiling and dropping into offices about 50 feet (15 meters) away. He wasn’t injured.

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Punxsutawney Phil predicts an early spring at Groundhog Day festivities