Punxsutawney Phil has spoken and he says that there’s an early spring in our future this year. CNN reports that America’s most famous groundhog was surrounded by a festive crowd as he made his prediction bright and early Saturday morning. Phil didn’t see his shadow, which according to legend, means spring is on its way.
That’s good news for the parts of the country recovering from an intense polar vortex. The bad news is that good old Phil has a worse track record of predicting spring’s arrival than a coin toss. He has only been accurate about 40 percent of the time.
“You’re better off trying to decide what the rest of February and March will look like by flipping a coin,” said meteorologist Judson Jones.
But Phil’s inner circle disagrees. They say Phil has been accurate every time, it’s the humans who misinterpret his message.
Technically, Phil’s prediction is decided in advance by the groundhog and his entourage on Gobbler’s Knob, a hill just outside of the town of Punxsutawney, which itself sits 65 miles northeast of Pittsburgh in Pennsylvania. The groundhog sits on a tree stump and conveys his message to the club president, who passes it along to the vice president, who reads the prediction from a tiny scroll.
A.J. Dereume, one of the people in Phil’s club, says that they are just the messengers.
“Phil is the one deciding whether or not he’s seen the shadow,” he says. “It’s not up to us. All we do is deliver his message.”
Phil revealed his prediction via Instagram this year, along with his traditional proclamation in town.
“Faithful followers, there is no shadow of me and a beautiful spring it shall be,” his spokesperson said.
The town ramps up its celebrations for the big day a week in advance with a festival that includes a costume contest, a ball, a snowshoe hike, and an inaugural banquet.
The tradition began in the 1800s, but the first Groundhog event started in 1887, when Phil was declared the official weather-predicting groundhog in America.
Groundhog day itself is rooted in the Christian holiday Candlemas. Historically, Candlemas Day was a Celtic day of celebration marking the midpoint between the winter solstice and the spring equinox. The Christian church modified the celebration to commemorate the purification of the Virgin Mary.
Since the tradition involved preparing for the year’s planting, it was common to make predictions about when spring would arrive. In England, a bear made the prediction, and in Germany a badger did. When German immigrants moved to Pennsylvania, they couldn’t find any badgers, so they adopted the groundhog.