CHARLESTON, W.Va., (WOWK) – Sunday February, 2, 2020 marks the annual “observance”of Groundhog Day. A day when people across America look to furry mascots for hints about the kind of weather we will have for the rest of winter.
While the StormTracker meteorologists find great fun celebrating a time when everyone is talking about the weather, there’s not a whole lot of science behind it. There is a whole lot of tradition behind it.
The center of the Groundhog huh-bub is Punxsutawney, Pennsylania where the “inner circle” of the Groundhog Club wears formal top hats and tails and pulls the famous Punxustawney Phil out of his famed tree stump to make a proclamation and weather prognostication.
If Phil sees his shadow, there will be “6 more weeks of winter.” If Phil does not see his shadow, that means we can look for an early Spring.
The history of the event dates back to a tradition known as “Candlemas Day.” The official web page for Punxustawney Phil explains the tradition in quite some detail in the following passage:
“The Christian religious holiday of Candlemas Day has become most commonly associated with the current celebration, but it’s roots are older than that. The celebration started in Christianity as the day, (February 2nd), when Christians would take their candles to the church to have them blessed. This, they felt, would bring blessings to their household for the remaining winter.
As time rolled on the day evolved into another form. The following English folk song highlights the transition to weather prognostication.
If Candlemas be fair and bright,
Come, Winter, have another flight;
If Candlemas brings clouds and rain,
Go Winter, and come not again.
This “interpretation” of Candlemas Day became the norm for most of Europe. As you can read, there is no mention of an animal of any kind in the preceding song. It wasn’t until this traditional belief was introduced to Germany that an animal was introduced into the lore, hence another evolution of February 2nd. If, according to German lore, the hedgehog saw his shadow on Candlemas Day there would be a “Second Winter” or 6 more weeks of bad weather. As German settlers came to what is now the United States, so too came their traditions and folklore. ” — excerpt from www.groundhog.org
As for the record of Phil’s predictions, he has only not seen his shadow 19 times while he has seen his shadow 104 times since 1886. There were 10 years where no record was kept.
You can find multiple “studies” and anecdotal “evidence” about whether or not the actual predictions are right. As one might image, there’s really no way to measure because there’s no defined area and even if the groundhog is “wrong,” winter itself actually always ends officially in about the same time period, 6 weeks, from the “prognostication.” Whether the weather cooperates or not, Winter always gives way to Spring on the calendar about 46-48 days down the road.
One thing is undeniable about watching thousands of people head up a hillside just off the edge of a small town in Pennsylvania to party all night just to see what a small, furry mammal thinks about the weather: lots of people have fun with it.