High atop Gobbler’s Knob in western Pennsylvania, the Seer of Seers, the Prognosticator of all Prognosticators, Punxsutawney Phil will be coaxed from his hibernaculum in the old oak stump at 7:25 a.m. on February 2 to predict an early spring or six more weeks of winter. The legend shares that if it is sunny and Phil sees his shadow, the scared groundhog returns to his burrow and we will endure six more weeks of winter. As of 2017 Phil has seen his shadow 103 times predicting six more weeks of winter, and he has predicted an early spring 18 times with not seeing his shadow. How correct can a groundhog truly be at predicting the coming of spring?
The groundhog, or sometimes called the woodchuck, is Indiana’s largest member of the squirrel family. They are most active during the day from late winter through mid-fall and tend to stay close to an extensive network of underground burrows. One of these burrows has a single entrance and is used for hibernation. Timing of when groundhogs enter and emerge from hibernation depends on ambient temperatures, season and latitude. Groundhogs typically enter hibernation burrows near the autumnal equinox in October. Timing of emergence varies considerably with adult males emerging in February while females and younger males emerge in March.
The first day of spring occurs on the vernal equinox, around the 20th or 21st of March, which is approximately 47-48 days (6.7-6.9 weeks) from February 2. Given that Phil is likely yanked from his slumber before he is ready to come out, one could argue that he is fairly accurate any year he predicts six more weeks of winter when you consider the actual date of the first day of spring. Perhaps that is why Groundhog Day proponents claim he is correct 75-90% of the time! However, scientists from the National Climatic Data Center claim he is correct only 39% of the time in regards to spring-like weather patterns.
Will Phil be correct this year? Whether Phil is right or wrong, spring will come with beautiful blooms on the forest floor of trilliums and Dutchmen’s breeches. Happy Groundhog Day!
Groundhog Day, Stormfax Weather Almanac
Groundhog Day, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), National Climatic Data Center
Groundhog Day Forecasts and Climate History, National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), National Climatic Data Center
Animal Damage Management: Woodchucks, The Education Store
Diana Evans, Extension and Web Communications Specialist
Purdue University, Forestry and Natural Resources