DARKE COUNTY — Tomorrow, February 2, people across North America will find out how long they will need to keep their snow shovels handy.
It’s a rather simple proposition: Legend says that if a groundhog sees his shadow on February 2, there will be six more weeks of winter. If he doesn’t, spring will come early.
The most notable weather-predicting groundhog in the United States is Punxsutawney Phil, a resident of Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania. Amid much annual fanfare, a group of gentlemen in top hats and tuxedos will consult Phil and deliver to the crowd his prediction.
Phil was even the subject of a popular 1993 movie, Groundhog Day, albeit a secondary player to actors Bill Murray and Andie MacDowell.
According to event organizers (www.groundhog.org), Groundhog Day was founded in the traditions of the Romans, who carried the myth to the Germans during Roman invasions many centuries ago.
The story was also based on this Scottish couplet:
“If Candlemas Day is bright and clear, There’ll be two winters in the year.”
In the Christian calender, Candlemas Day marks the day on which the infant Jesus was presented by Mary and Joseph at the temple in Jerusalem.
The Punxsutawney Phil event dates back to 1886, when the editor of the local newspaper, The Punxsutawney Spirit, named a group of groundhog watchers the “Punxsutawney Groundhog Club.” The Club deemed a certain hilltop near the town as “Gobbler’s Knob” proclaiming that, from this knob, Punxsutawney Phil could accurately forecast the weather.
The following year, on February 2, the first official trek to Gobbler’s Knob was made and Punxsutawney Phil delivered his first official weather forecast, which called for a long winter.
Today, television and print journalists from around the world descend on Punxsutawney to witness the prognosticating woodchuck.
However, while Phil gets all the headlines on February 2, other places have their own weather-predicting critters.
Closer to home, in Marion, Ohio, Buckeye Chuck provides the February 2 long-range forecast. The Ohio General Assembly named Buckeye Chuck the “Official State Groundhog” back in 1979.
In New York, Staten Island Chuck has made the call since 1981. Down south, in Lilburn, Georgia, Gen. Beauregard Lee is the official shadow seer.
Further north, Wiarton Willie, in Bruce County, Ontario, Canada, provides the Groundhog Day forecast.
Another famous weather prognosticator, however, says all this groundhog business is actually hogwash.
Caleb Weatherbee, official forecaster for the Farmers’ Almanac (www.farmersalmanac.com), says the 2016 Farmers’ Almanac has known since August how the remainder of the winter will play out.
”Winter isn’t going anywhere any time soon,” he writes. “According to our 2016 winter outlook, we are calling for a repeat of last winter, and if you recall, the bitter cold and shivery [weather] that struck many states, including the 23 eastern states, came in full force in February and lasted well into March.”
Weatherbee adds, “Like the winter of 2014-2015, we are ‘red-flagging’ the second week of February for possible heavy winter weather with a long, drawn out spell of stormy weather extending through much of the first half of March. And despite the strong El Nino, many of these areas will still see wintry precipitation — more likely winter wet than winter white — but still winter nonetheless.”
The best advice? Think spring, but don’t misplace your gloves.