Groundhog Day: five facts about Punxsutawney Phil

Punxsutawney Phil saw his shadow on Groundhog Day Tuesday, which means six more weeks of winter. Here are five things you might not know about this American tradition.

Gene J. Puskar / AP
Punxsutawney Phil after emerging from his burrow on Gobblers Knob in Punxsutawney, Pa., to see his shadow and forecast six more weeks of winter weather Tuesday.

Happy Groundhog Day!

Tuesday marks yet another dubious American holiday, complete with its own greeting cards. Like so many other holidays, Groundhog Day seems an unnecessary exercise in self-inflicted torture: We roust ourselves at the crack of dawn in the depths of winter so an overweight rodent from a peewee town in Pennsylvania can tell us we have to look forward to six more weeks of winter (Yes, Phil saw his shadow).

And then there’s the poor rodent itself – yanked from cozy hibernation to satisfy a whim (no wonder New York’s Staten Island Chuck bit Mayor Bloomberg’s finger last year).

Regardless, we’ll be celebrating Groundhog Day for many moons to come. So here’s some Groundhog Day trivia with which to impress your friends:

Punxsutawney Phil is immortal. Well, practically. According to folklore, the furry oracle was born in 1887, making him 123 years old. The average groundhog lives less than 10 years, making Phil a statistical anomaly … or not Phil (remember when Daddy came home from the vet with Harry the hamster, only Harry looked different?). Fans of Punxsutawney Phil insist a magical “elixir of life” keep Phil looking youthful.

Phil’s about as accurate as your average meteorologist. That is to say, not very. The US National Climatic Data Center estimates Phil’s forecast is correct only about 40 percent of the time. (Perhaps he could find a job at the Weather Channel.)

Phil’s got competition. Watch out, Phil: prognostication is popular among the rodent set. New York’s got Staten Island Chuck, Ohio’s got Buckeye Chuck, and Georgia’s got good ol' General Beauregard Lee. There’s more. Wiarton Willie, Dunkirk Dave, Shubenacadie Sam, French Creek Freddie, Balzac Billy, the list goes on.

Phil’s gone high-tech. He may hail from the 19th century, but Phil’s getting word out in a decidedly 21st century way: he’s texting. And YouTubing. Phil text messaged fans his forecast Tuesday morning (followers signed up in advance by texting ‘Groundhog’ to 247365), and he has his own YouTube channel. And like everyone else and their mother, he’s on Facebook.

There’s no Groundhog Day in Alaska. For which we can thank Sarah Palin. There aren’t many groundhogs in Alaska, so then-Gov. Sarah Palin signed a bill last year officially designating February 2 as Marmot Day. The marmot can't forecast the weather, but he may be the only rodent that can see Russia from his burrow.


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