If you’re a fan of Punxsutawney Phil, the most celebrated of the Groundhog Day weather prognosticators, who “saw” his shadow when he emerged from his lair this morning just before 7:30, you’ll be getting ready for more winter — although, if it’s to the winter we’ve been having in the Northeast, that wouldn’t be too bad, anyway.
However, if you rely on one of the other two forecasting critters — Staten Island Chuck and Gen. Beauregard Lee — you can expect an early spring. Neither saw his shadow this morning.
Gov. Tom Corbett of Pennsylvania presided over Phil’s ceremonial Feb. 2 emergence in Gobbler’s Knob, a tiny hill in the town of Punxsutawney, some 65 miles northeast of Pittsburgh.
The woodchuck has been making his “predictions” since 1886. Exactly how he became known as any kind of expert is difficult to understand, however.
According to the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club's Inner Circle, which runs the event, Phil has seen his shadow 100 times and not seen it 16 times. The Associated Press reported that there are no records for the 10 years unaccounted for.
Matt Daniel of earthsky.org says that’s because folks didn’t pay too much attention to the event until 1900, when the tradition officially began.
More than 15,000 from all over the world attended this year’s spectacle, although Daniel — ranked as one of the top 100 young forecasters in the nation in 2009-2010 by WxChallenge, a competition of the nation’s top 1,500 collegiate forecasters — noted that Phil is correct just 39 percent of the time.
And whether or not Phil should take the credit or blame is also not clear, since his prediction is determined ahead of time by the Inner Circle, whose members don top hats and tuxedos and decide in advance what the groundhog will predict, according to the Associated Press
Chuck — formerly known as Charles G. Hogg, and famous for biting New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg at the event in 2009 — resides in the Staten Island Zoo, which drew just around 100 spectators to the event.
Bloomberg now wears heavy gloves when he raises Chuck for the crowd to see. The oft-booed mayor said “Go Giants” as he lifted the woodchuck, perhaps hoping to hold off the hecklers.
Gen. Beauregard Lee bolted out of and back into his plantation-style ranch in Liburn, Ga., where he is the official Groundhog Day forecaster. DaculaPatch reported that despite the brief appearance, several hundred spectators were on hand to hear the announcement, "It's 7:35 [a.m.] and 40 degrees. No shadow means an early spring.”
Although the two less-famous groundhogs aren’t in agreement, Mike Johnston, vice president of the Inner Circle in Punxsutawney, claims Phil has “never been wrong." Phil is "incapable of error," he said, because the groundhog doesn’t say exactly what geographic location his prediction is for.
“I guarantee you someone's going to have six more weeks of winter," Johnson said.
—JOE GREENE, NEWJERSEYNEWSROOM.COM