Groundhog Day is almost upon us, when marmot meteorologists take over the weather report to answer the pressing question: Is spring almost here, or are we subject to six more weeks of winter -- and maybe more important, are rodents ever right?
The story goes that on February 2, if the groundhog (also known as a woodchuck) emerges from its burrow and sees its shadow, there will be six more weeks of winter. No shadow means an early spring.
The history of this now American tradition stems from pagan and Christian holidays brought over from Europe that looked to hibernating animals to signal the end of winter. The Germans used hedgehogs as their weather guides. In Pennsylvania, early American settlers found groundhogs, not hedgehogs, and the forecasting began in the new country with a new rodent.
Thanks to the movie "Groundhog Day," the marmot Punxsutawney Phil has reached celebrity status. The supposedly 125-year-old rodent, who gained fame in the comedy starring Bill Murray and Andie MacDowell, boasts a Facebook page along with media hype.
So how accurate is the forecast from Punxsutawney Phil? According to the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club, Phil's reading is 100% accurate, natch. But the National Climatic Data Center disagrees, noting that its research shows "no predictive skill for the groundhog during the most recent years of this analysis." The Stormfax Almanac concurs, judging the Pennsylvania prognosticator to be correct a not-very-impressive 39% of the time.
But perhaps that's not all that surprising: As the Christian Science Monitor points out, no weather forecaster would dare deliver predictions further than a few days out. And they've got high-tech gadgets at their fingertips.
But in this case, tradition rules, and across the country, reasonable people turn to rodents for their weather report -- and the results can be unpleasant. The most infamous groundhog has to be Staten Island Chuck, who gained notoriety for biting New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg a few years back. Other groundhogs emerge on the day to make their own, possibly contradictory, predictions: The Huffington Post tracked down lesser-known furry mammals who forecast.
Groundhog or no, the first day of spring is officially March 20, and it can't come soon enough.