Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Only the Shadow Knows...

A long-standing tradition, today marks Groundhog Day! People rush to Gobbler's Knob, in Pennsylvania, to learn from Punxsutawney Phil whether or not winter will sustain another 6 weeks. He and his shadow have been forecasting the weather for Americans since 1887, in secret, and then publicly since 1966. But there's much more to this tradition than many of us realize or even consider!

With debatable origins, this yearly celebration traces its roots further back than the last 125 years or so to the European Candlemas Day (also celebrated today). A poem regarding the holiday reads "If Candlemas be fair and bright,/May Winter have another flight." Hence, the shadow knows all!

Speaking of lights, Phil is not the only forecaster! Canada has their very own famous groundhog - Wiarton Willie! Similarly, there are other groundhogs around the US that share Phil's spotlight, at least to some extent - and other animals too! Texas has Bee Cave Bob, an armadillo, to forecast their spring every February 2nd, or "Armadillo Day." Just last year, Alaskan governor Sarah Palin, declared Feb. 2 "Marmot Day;" but there were no forecasting duties assigned.

Over the years, even Kentucky has shared in Groundhog Day festivities, as you can see in these 1910 Paducah Evening Sun articles. Though not official, Captain Mason Smith adopted a groundhog, dug a burrow for him the previous October (for hibernation, of course), and brought him out to predict the weather. It paid off - the unnamed adoptee's shadow predicted Spring! And then there's the Dickson, TN club who ran around all day searching out groundhog burrows and digging them up just to offer a weather report that evening! So which method is better?

Oh, and as for this year's prediction? Nothing from Bee Cave Bob or Wiarton Billie as of yet, but Punxsutawney Phil is calling for 6 more weeks of winter. And the shadow always knows... (or at least he does 39% of the time, according to the National Climatic Data Center)

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