Punxsutawney Phil: The furry forecaster you never knew

By Jamie Slater

Special to WTOP

WASHINGTON — Whether the Seahawks or the Broncos will take home the Super Bowl trophy is not the only prediction in store for this Sunday.

America’s most famous groundhog, Punxsutawney Phil, will decide for the 128th time whether there will be six more weeks of winter, if he sees his shadow, or an early spring, if he does not.

The legendary Groundhog Day casts its shadow all across the U.S., but what do we really know about him? These fun facts may shed light on the holiday and its varying nationwide celebrations. For instance:

  • The tradition comes from Candlemas Day, the early European version of the holiday. Germans, Pennsylvania’s first settlers, brought the tradition with them, but chose the more common groundhog instead of the European hedgehog, to be the predictor, according to Pennsylvania’s Punxsutawney Groundhog Club.
  • The same Punxsutawney Phil, who was originally called Br’er Groundhog, has been making predictions since Feb. 2, 1887. As the group says, “Phil receives a drink of a magical punch every summer during the Annual Groundhog Picnic, which gives him seven more years of life.”
  • On Sunday, after Phil emerges from his burrow on Gobbler’s Knob, he will make his prediction in Groundhogese, after which it will be translated to English. The club says he is accurate 100 percent of the time, although Stormfax says this number is closer to 39 percent.
  • Phil visited D.C. in 1986 to visit President Reagan, according to the club, but now his stuffed “brother” Potomac Phil predicts the area’s weather. On Sunday at 7:30 a.m., the Dupont Circle celebration will include live accordion music and polka dancers, and a possible appearance by “Groundhog Day” star Bill Murray.
  • In New York, Staten Island Chuck makes a prediction from the Staten Island Zoo. Hopefully, current Mayor Bill de Blasio will have better luck than Mayor Bloomberg did in 2009, when Chuck bit him on the finger.
  • General Beauregard Lee of Lilburn, Ga., near Atlanta, is so famous for his Feb. 2 predictions that, according to the Yellow River Game Ranch, he appeared on “Today” in 1988. He even has an honorary “doctor of Weather Prognostication” from the University of Georgia and a “Doctor of Southern Groundology” from Georgia State University.
  • Wiarton Willie, an albino groundhog from Wiarton, Ontario, has a week-long festival in honor of his predictions. Last weekend, the Queen of the Festival was crowned at a pageant, and this Sunday’s Prediction Day will include 7 a.m. fireworks, snow shoe trials and dog sled demonstrations.
  • Sir Walter Wally of Raleigh, N.C., Milltown Mel of New Jersey, Chuckles VIII of Connecticut and the hedgehog Mayzie of the Oregon Zoo are some of Phil’s other competitors. But, according to the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club, “Punxsutawney Phil is the only true weather forecasting groundhog. The others are just imposters.”
  • Due to the lack of groundhogs in Alaska, Feb. 2 is “Marmot Day” in The Last Frontier, thanks to a 2009 bill signed by then-governor Sarah Palin, according to Huffington Post.
  • At the University of Dallas in Irving,Texas, Groundhog Day is an official school holiday, and arguably the largest celebration outside of Punxsutawney. Although they don’t have their own weather predictor, the school crowns a Groundhog King and Queen on Thursday night, holds a champagne breakfast on Friday and, on Prediction Day, sponsors a 5k run, sporting events and an all-night party.

Live coverage from the original Punxsutawney event can be found Sunday morning here.

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