Groundhog Day 2023: Punxsutawney Phil sees his shadow
Philadelphia — Temperatures are forecast to plunge across the Philadelphia region over the next few days, and Punxsutawney Phil expects more of the same for the next six weeks.
The nation's most popular marmot saw his shadow Thursday morning after leaving his burrow at Gobbler's Knob in Punxsutawney. That means the country can expect below-average temperatures for the next six weeks, if you subscribe to the legend of Phil's weather-predicting abilities.
Tens of thousands of groundhog enthusiasts gathered in the small Western Pennsylvania town in the early morning hours to watch the annual ceremony, hosted by the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club. Among those on hand to take in the festivities was newly-elected Gov. Josh Shapiro.
How accurate has Punxsutawney Phil been over the years?
Last year, Punxsutawney Phil predicted six more weeks of winter by seeing his shadow. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration didn't weigh in on the forecast's accuracy, but according to an analysis of weather data by The Inquirer, the contiguous United States saw slightly above-average temperatures in February and early March, meaning Phil missed the mark.
Philadelphia actually experienced temperatures way above normal last year after Phil saw his shadow — average temperatures were up 3.8 degrees in February and 4.2 degrees in March.
Incorporating data from NOAA, that would mean Phil has been accurate just 40% of the time over the past 10 years, nailing his predictions in 2020, 2016, 2014, and 2013.
Since 1887, Phil and his predecessors have predicted more winter 105 times and called for 20 early springs, according to Stormfax Almanac (no records exist for nine years). Live Science did an analysis of the data last year and concluded Phil's six-week predictions have been correct just 39% of the time.
What about rival groundhogs in Staten Island and across the U.S.?
While Phil gets nearly all the attention each year, media outlets in New York continue to promote competing forecasts from their own meteorological marmot, Staten Island Chuck.
Chuck, who also goes by Charles G. Hogg, resides at the Staten Island Zoo. He and his predecessors have been making weather predictions since 1981, and he differed from Phil last year by correctly forecasting an early spring.
While Chuck doesn't get near the acclaim, he's had to deal with more harrowing conditions than his Pennsylvania counterpart. In 2009, Chuck bit then-Mayor Michael Bloomberg and was secretly replaced by his granddaughter, Charlotte, for the 2014 ceremony. Unfortunately, then-Mayor Bill de Blasio dropped Charlotte on the ground, and the groundhog died several days later.
So far, New York City Mayor Eric Adams has had a better working relationship with the buck-toothed prognosticator.
Chuck and Phil have disagreed on the forecast eight times since 2008, and during that run the Staten Island rodent was wrong only twice, according to the Staten Island Advance. In fact, since 1981, Chuck had an accuracy rate of 80%.
There are a number of lesser-known groundhogs across the country people turn to for forecasts. Woodstock Willie presides in Woodstock, Ill., where the movie Groundhog Day was filmed. There's also Buckeye Chuck, who's been dolling out predictions in Marion, Ohio since 1970. North of the border, Canadians in Nova Scotia turn to Shubenacadie Sam.
New Jersey town still looking for a replacement groundhog
For the second straight year, residents in Middlesex County in New Jersey didn't have a groundhog to guide them this winter.
Officials in Milltown are still looking for a replacement for Milltown Mel, a lesser-known weather-predicting marmot who died last year just days before Groundhog Day.
In the past, officials didn't have much trouble replacing Mel. But they struggled this year to find a new groundhog — even just a temporary stand-in from a nearby zoo — and were forced to call off their 2023 ceremony.
"You can't just say, 'oh, I got one in my backyard,'" Milltown Wrangler Russ Einbinder told The Inquirer. "You try handling one that you haven't handled since birth and you're gonna get your hand bit off."
How did this whole marmot-predicting-the-weather thing start?
According to the Pennsylvania Tourism Office, Romans took the early Christian holiday Candlemas to Germany, where it was said that if there was enough sun on Candlemas Day for a badger to cast a shadow, there would be six more weeks of bad weather.
German immigrants brought this tradition to Pennsylvania, and in 1886 the editor of Punxsutawney's newspaper teamed up with a group of groundhog hunters to begin the legend of Punxsutawney Phil's weather prowess. So in the United States and Canada, we celebrate Groundhog Day on the same date Christians across the globe celebrate Candlemas.
It's the 30-year anniversary of 'Groundhog Day'
While Groundhog Day itself has been celebrated for more than a century, its namesake movie is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year.
Director Harold Ramis considered many actors for the lead role of a jaded meteorologist trapped reliving the same day over and over, including Tom Hanks and Pennsylvania native Michael Keaton. But they both turn Ramis down, who ultimately settled on his "Caddyshack" and "Ghostbusters" collaborator, Bill Murray.
Ramis told the Hollywood Reporter shooting the film with Murray was "difficult," because a rift had formed between the duo that lasted two decades. They only reunited months before Ramis' death in 2014, according to Variety.
But that struggle on the set was nothing compared to the terror inflicted on Murray by his hairy co-star, Scooter.
"A co-star that bites you once, well, I can accept that. But a co-star that bites you twice, well now, that's a problem," Murray said in a 1993 interview with The Inquirer, adding that the crew was banned from using the real Punxsutawney Phil while making the movie because it was filmed in Woodstock, Ill. for logistical reasons.
"Phil was fabulous," Murray recalled. "He's treated like royalty and is very well-behaved. A true professional. And so when they couldn't get him — a creature who has been hand-raised since birth and is very tame — what did they do? They went out into the wood and caught this Scooter, a groundhog who hated my guts from day one."
Staff writer Anthony R. Wood contributed to this report.