By GRACE SHEEHAN
For 364 days of the year, we trust meteorologists, their satellites, and other costly equipment to predict the environment and changes in the atmosphere. However, for one day in February, we put our faith in a fluffy, obese rodent. Yes, I’m talking about Groundhog Day. Every Feb. 2, the chubby vermin is awoken from his winter slumber and forced to participate in one of our peculiar American traditions. If he sees his shadow, then there will be six more weeks of winter. If he doesn’t, we can assume that warm weather is near.
The groundhog, Punxsutawney Phil, resides in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, where the annual Groundhog Day celebration is held. Since 1887, the town has held a festival, full of music and food, where people from all over the country come to celebrate the prized rat. However, Phil is so unreliable, we would be better off flipping a coin. Members of Punxsutawney Phil’s “Inner Circle” claim his predictions are 100 percent accurate. Yet, Phil has only been correct 37 percent of the time. Since Punxsutawney Phil first began prognosticating the weather back in 1887, he has predicted an early spring 18 times. But in 2011, the groundhog predicted an early spring for the East Coast, only to get pounded with snow in mid-March! So why are we trusting a rat-like creature to predict the weather?
It is important to remember that for years, humans relied on superstition to help predict the weather. In Europe, it was common to observe animals, such as bears or marmots and their hibernation patterns. Specifically, the Germans used badgers for their predictions. However, when they began settling in Pa., badgers were no longer widely available. So they turned to the next best thing, groundhogs.
In 1887, news began to spread about a miracle groundhog named Punxsutawney Phil, who was a weather-predicting wonder. They claimed that this genius animal could consistently forecast the weather. The country quickly became encapsulated by this marvel rodent and thus the annual tradition was born.
You may be asking, how many groundhogs have there been since then? Well, according to legend, there is only one Punxsutawney Phil. For 135 years, Phil has been making predictions year after year. Each summer, Phil takes one sip of the “elixir of life” and magically gains seven more years of life.
This year, the groundhog predicted six more weeks of winter. But if you were hoping for an early spring don’t worry, he’s probably wrong anyway. So you shouldn’t push back your spring cleaning or switch out your whole wardrobe based on Phil’s forecast. But what did you expect? After all, Phil is just a groundhog.