Six More Weeks of Winter are in Store…but you Already Knew That



We certainly don’t need a groundhog to tell us that it will be a long winter. Here in Hamilton, a constant blanket of snow, icy winds and chattering teeth continue on well into March and beyond. On Wednesday, Punxsutawney Phil went about his annual routine: after warming himself for some time inside Gobbler’s Knob, his luxuriously heated faux tree stump, he was summoned at 7:25 a.m. to look for his shadow. Unfortunately, he was successful. Our fate has been confirmed by the prophetic rodent: another 40 days of foul winter weather loom ahead. The groundhog tradition can be traced back to early Christian communities throughout Europe in the sixth century C.E. According to, the official site of the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club, the tradition is derived from the Christian celebration of Candlemas Day, which occurred 40 days after Christmas, on February 2. On this day, members of the clergy would bless candles for the remainder of the dark winter days and distribute them among the people. Additionally, observation of the weather on this day soon became a device for predicting the progression of the seasons: if the sky was clear and the sun shone, people believed they were in for six more weeks of winter; an overcast sky, on the other hand, was considered a harbinger of an early spring. An English poem expresses this idea quite candidly:

If Candlemas be fair and bright,Come, Winter, have another flight.If Candlemas brings clouds and rain,Go, Winter, and come not again.

This theme of predictive weather was further expanded upon in Germany, where the badger and hedgehog were appointed harbingers of fair and foul: if the sunlight produced a shadow, winter would continue. Consequently, when German settlers arrived in Pennsylvania in the early 18th century, they brought with them this cultural tradition. The native groundhog soon followed in the footsteps of his clairvoyant rodent predecessors, and the American tradition of Groundhog Day was born.The Stormfax Weather Almanac indicates that the earliest surviving reference to Groundhog Day and its origins was recorded by storekeeper James Morris of Morgantown, Pennsylvania, in 1841: “Last Tuesday, the 2nd, was Candlemas day, the day on which, according to the Germans, the Groundhog peeps out of his winter quarters and if he sees his shadow, he pops back for another six weeks of napping, but if the day be cloudy he remains out, as the weather is to be moderate.”The official institution of Groundhog Day was established in 1886 with an announcement in the Punxsutawney Spirit. Clymer Freas, editor of the newspaper, christened the chosen groundhog “Punxsutawney Phil, Seer of Seers, Sage of Sages, Prognosticator of Prognosticators, and Weather Prophet Extraordinary.” Phil has since had quite a lengthy career: this year marked his 119th prediction. His longevity is sustained by a rather spurious concoction simply the Punxsutwaney Groundhog Club calls “groundhog punch.” Typically the lifespan of a groundhog is between six and 8 years, yet somehow Phil has managed to survive for 17 generations.Phil weighs a hefty 20 pounds thanks to his well-balanced diet of dog food and ice cream. Groundhogs less fortunate than he thrive on wild fruits and greens such as dandelion, grasses and clover, all while braving the harsh winters in subterranean burrows. Phil, however, lives a life of leisure and literature in a climate-controlled den in the Punxsutawney Library. He seems to handle his ever-increasing fame with grace. The release of the movie Groundhog Day in 1993, starring Bill Murray, helped to further augment his nationwide renown; soon after, in 1995, he appeared on Oprah. Today upwards of 30,000 people flock to Punxsutawney to support him on his day of glory.Given the prestige and respect that Phil garners from his adoring public, it is astonishing that his accuracy rate is a mere 39%. Perhaps we will enjoy an early spring in Hamilton after all: don’t give up on the flip-flops and Capri pants just yet!