Groundhog Day: 5 odd facts about the myth-based holiday
Published Saturday, February 1, 2014 3:07PM EST
Groundhog Day, it's a strange holiday based more on folklore than science. But despite the fact that most, if not all, meteorologists place little value on the rodent's ability to predict an early spring, the annual tradition is still one that many people get excited about.
In Pennsylvania, home of perhaps the most famous stocky marmot, Punxsutawney Phil, thousands of people each year flock to the U.S. borough as the animal is hoisted from his winter home and called upon to predict the weather.
According to legend, if a groundhog spots its shadow on Feb. 2, it will scurry back to its burrow, signalling six more weeks of winter. If there's no shadow, an early spring is just around the corner.
Here in Canada, Groundhog Day brings just as much excitement. Canada's most celebrated groundhog, Wiarton Willie, last year predicted an early end to winter. Hundreds of people bundled up last February to watch the rotund rodent emerge from his burrow in Bruce County, Ont., and this year will likely be no different.
Although Groundhog Day falls on the same day as Super Bowl Sunday this year, many people will still likely tune in to find out what the long-term weather prognosis will be.
With phrases like the "polar vortex" and the "Alberta clipper" still being tossed around, many people will be rooting for our rodent friends to not see their shadows. But how accurate is the furry forecaster? Not very, according to the U.S. National Climatic Data Center (NCDC).
"(The) NCDC's analysis shows that (Punxsutawney) Phil's forecasts are, on average, inaccurate," the U.S. climate data centre explains on its website. "The groundhog has shown no talent for predicting the arrival of spring, especially in recent years."
And Phil's Canadian counterparts aren't any more accurate.
"I wish there was always a certain allotment of winter days. If that was the case, we would have used them all up and we'd be nicely coasting towards a warmer than normal spring," Senior Environment Canada climatologist David Phillips told The Canadian Press.
Meteorologists from across the country say their weather models show that the frigid temperatures that have gripped much of Canada throughout the last couple of months will likely persist through February.
But despite the groundhog's less-than-accurate weather predicting abilities, the tradition of Groundhog Day lives on.
Here are five more interesting facts about Groundhog Day.
1. Where does the tradition come from?
Groundhog Day may have its origins in the Christian celebration of Candlemas Day, the midway point between the winter solstice and the spring equinox. A traditional old English rhyme associated with the day goes:
If Candlemas be fair and bright,
Come, Winter, have another flight
If Candlemas brings clouds and rain,
Go Winter, and come not again.
2. Beware of imitators
In Alaska, Groundhog Day has been replaced by Marmot Day. In 2009, former U.S. Governor Sarah Palin signed a bill proclaiming Feb. 2 as Marmot Day, an Alaskan holiday that celebrates frontier life.
3. How many weather-predicting groundhogs are there?
Punxsutawney Phil and Wiarton Willie aren't the only prognosticating rodents that we rely on to "predict" how many more weeks of winter are left. Lesser known Canadian groundhogs include Manitoba's Winnipeg Willow, Nova Scotia's Shubenacadie Sam, and Quebec's Fred.
4. How do the furry forecasters "speak" to officials?
In Pennsylvania, members of the "Inner Circle," the group that looks after the state's prized groundhog, are fluent in "Groundhog-ese," the rodent's "mother-tongue." In reality, groundhogs, one of the 14 species of marmots, generally make chattering noises.
5. Are groundhogs really cute and cuddly?
While famous groundhogs such as Wiarton Willie seem like something you might want to have as a pet, the furry rodent, the largest member of the squirrel family, are a constant annoyance to both farmers and gardeners. Groundhogs, during the summer and fall months, gorge themselves on plants, fruits and tree barks, and can decimate an entire garden plot.
With files from The Canadian Press