By Sandi Khine
Just a few weeks ago, a rodent carried by men in top hats saw its shadow on the ground and marked the beginning of another six long weeks of wintry weather. The circumstance is far from unusual— near the close of winter every year, an extraordinary groundhog known as Punxsutawney Phil decides the fate of national climate for the coming weeks.
For decades, Groundhog Day has been such a deeply rooted tradition in the hearts of so many American people that it has rarely crossed their minds to question its existence. The fateful date of Feb. 2 is one where many gather to watch an old, traditional occurrence—can a seemingly insignificant groundhog predict the weather for the six weeks to come?
Punxsutawney Phil’s name is a mouthful, as is his history and that of a day devoted solely to him. Once Phil rises from hibernation, he checks to see if there is a visible shadow on the ground. If there is, then six more weeks of winter will befall him; if there is no shadow and the day is cloudy, then warmer spring temperatures are imminent.
Groundhog Day was once known as Candlemas Day by the German settlers, and it is no surprise that Candlemas Day has the same tradition but with a candle. Feb. 2 was chosen simply because it is the midpoint between the Winter Solstice and the Summer Solstice. Candlemas Day eventually melded with the belief in groundhogs being honorable spirits of the Delaware Natives who settled in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania; thus, Punxsutawney Phil the immortal groundhog came to be.
Phil is not the only predictive groundhog, as there are a plethora of them across the nation: West Virginia’s French Creek Freddie, Georgia’s Gen. Beauregard Lee, Ohio’s Buckeye Chuck, North Carolina’s Sir Walter Wally, and so many more.
Despite claims that Phil is immortal and that he can communicate in “Groundhogese,” many of Phil’s past predictions have been incorrect. Here in Southern California though, Phil’s forecasting just might come true. Though the first few weeks of Feb. have been the typical warm weather that Angelenos are so used to, the estimates for the weather ahead are centered around the 60’s—a considerable contrast to the sweltering heat of November and December.
No matter the outcome of any Groundhog Day, there is one thing to be certain of. Southern Californians will be enjoying the cooler temperatures forecast by Punxsutawney Phil before the infamous warmth sets in for the spring and summer seasons.