By Terri Estes

A groundhog, also known as a woodchuck, is a large rodent species native to North America. They have short stocky bodies with a dense brown coat that provides insulation during colder months. The groundhog’s short legs are incredibly powerful with strong claws used for digging their burrows. These animals hibernate underground during the winter and become active again in early spring where they are often seen in open fields and meadows in our area.

February 2 is National Groundhog Day. There are several Groundhog Day festivals held on this day each year throughout the United States and Canada. The most famous one is in Punxsutawney, PA. That is the home of the one and only Punxsutawney Phil. Each year, crowds of up to 40,000 gather at Phil’s home in Gobbler’s Knob, to see if Phil predicts an early spring or a long winter.  If he emerges from his burrow and sees his shadow, there will be six more weeks of winter. If he does not see his shadow, spring will arrive early. This year, he did not see his shadow, so bring on the warmer weather!

Who decided that this cute little animal could predict the weather? Well, the tradition is rooted in German folklore and was brought to America by immigrants, particularly those of German descent who settled in Pennsylvania. According to the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club, Punxsutawney Phil has a 100% accuracy rate since the tradition began in the late 1800s. Now, I am not sure that this assertion can be scientifically verified, but I do know that Phil’s predictions are just as reliable as our local weather forecasters on TV and radio. They like to cover all their bases, so they aren’t technically wrong about the forecast. How do you prepare for your outdoor activity when the forecaster tells you that it is going to be partly sunny to mostly cloudy with a 30% chance of rain?

At least Phil makes it simple; he sees his shadow, or he doesn’t.


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