Tuesday was cold and snowy across the Philadelphia region, and Punxsutawney Phil doesn’t expect things to change for the next six weeks.
The nation’s foremost marmot weather expert saw his shadow Tuesday morning after scurrying out of a burrow at Gobbler’s Knob in Punxsutawney. As the legend goes, that means the country can expect below-average temperatures for the next six weeks.
(Although he did also promise one of the most beautiful springs we’ll ever see after that.)
Normally, the announcement of Phil’s annual forecast draws tens of thousands of people to the small town in Western Pennsylvania. (Last year, more than 40,000 went to watch the ceremony, according to Phil’s handlers, the Groundhog Club.) This year, due to the continued spread of COVID-19, no visitors were permitted at the ceremony, which was streamed live by the Pennsylvania Tourism Office.
How accurate has Punxsutawney Phil been over the years?
Last year, Punxsutawney Phil predicted an early spring by not seeing his shadow. Sure enough, temperatures came in above average in the region and across the contiguous United States, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Unfortunately, Phil hasn’t been that accurate over the years.
Since 1887, Phil and his predecessors have predicted 103 forecasts of more winter and 20 early springs, according to Stormfax Almanac (no records exist for nine years). Live Science did an analysis of the data and concluded Phil’s six-week predictions have been correct just 39% of the time.
Over the last 10 years, Phil has upped his accuracy to 50%, according to NOAA, nailing his prediction in 2020, 2016, 2014, 2013, and 2011.
What about that rival groundhog in Staten Island?
While Phil gets the bulk of the attention and headlines, his New York City rival — Staten Island Chuck — also gets trotted out every year to offer a competing forecast for the next six weeks.
Chuck, who also goes by Charles G. Hogg, resides at the Staten Island Zoo. He and his predecessors have been making weather predictions since 1981, and like Phil he was proven correct last year by forecasting an early spring.
Things have been more dicey in the rodent weather department in the nation’s largest city. In 2009, Chuck bit then-Mayor Michael Bloomberg and was secretly replaced by his granddaughter, Charlotte, for the 2014 ceremony. Unfortunately, Mayor Bill de Blasio dropped Charlotte on the ground, and the groundhog died several days later.
Chuck and Phil have disagreed on the forecast six times since 2008, and the Staten Island rodent has been wrong only once since 2010, according to the Staten Island Advance.
How did this whole marmot-predicting-the-weather thing start?
According to the Pennsylvania Tourism Office, Romans took the early Christian holiday Candlemas to Germany, where it was said that if there was enough sun on Candlemas Day for a badger to cast a shadow, there would be six more weeks of bad weather.
German immigrants brought this tradition to Pennsylvania, and in 1886 the editor of Punxsutawney’s newspaper teamed up with a group of groundhog hunters to begin the legend of Punxsutawney Phil’s weather prowess. So in the United States and Canada, we celebrate Groundhog Day on the same date Christians across the globe celebrate Candlemas.
Bill Murray’s role in ‘Groundhog Day’ almost went to Michael Keaton
It’s hard to think of Groundhog Day without thinking of Groundhog Day, the 1993 film staring Bill Murray as disgruntled Channel 9 weatherman Phil Connors, who is forced to cover a weather-predicting “rat” for the fourth straight year.
It’s impossible to imagine another actor replacing Murray in the role. But a few years ago, Pennsylvania native Michael Keaton revealed in an interview with Entertainment Weekly that he turned the movie down because he “didn’t get it,” a move he’s come to regret.
“This guy sounds like the kind of wry, sardonic, glib young man I’ve played — and it ended up being so great,” Keaton told the magazine. “But you can’t do it better than Bill Murray did it.”