September 24, 2015, Chennai
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Can we trust a rodent to predict the weather for us when the experts at the Weather Service struggle with their predictions? You bet! The little groundhog called Punxsutawney Phil in the western Pennsylvania town of Punxsutawney has been known to predict the advent of Spring with remarkable accuracy for the past 123 years.
February 2 is generally known as Groundhog Day in the United States and Canada. On February 2, 2010 Phil came out from his burrow in Gobbler’s Knob, Punxsutawney at sunrise, with temperatures hovering in the teens (Fahrenheit) in the presence of hundreds of onlookers bundled up in winter clothing, saw his shadow, and scurried back underground. That means we will have six more weeks of wintry weather. If he did not see his shadow winter would be over sooner. How accurate is his prediction this year? On February 3, a few inches of snow fell across much of eastern Pennsylvania, delaying school openings and making roads slick. We have to wait for six more weeks to see if his prediction is entir
ely accurate this year too.
German immigrants in Pennsylvania began using groundhogs to forecast the weather in the 18th century, following the tradition in Europe where a badger was used. Many experts say Groundhog Day is appealing today because it provides a link, although tenuous, to the rhythms of nature. Besides, it lightens the gloom of winter. Groundhog Day falls at the midpoint between the winter solstice and the vernal equinox. So, technically speaking, there is always six more weeks of winter, if not wintry weather, irrespective of what the groundhog says. That doesn't stop claims of meteorological superiority in the prestigious groundhog circle. Some historians say Phil has always been right while others disagree.
Phil’s prediction is deemed accurate if he predicts an early spring and the number of days with temperatures above 40 degrees (Fahrenheit) exceeds the number of days where it remains below that in the six weeks after Feb. 2. Phil's prognostication gives the otherwise bland town some fame. Without Phil, there wouldn't be a Groundhog Wine Trail around Punxsutawney. Phil makes the rounds at the Pennsylvania Farm Show. On Groundhog Day many people come from all over the country to Punxsutawney. Some get married on that day in the local chapel.
After the fanfare is over, during the rest of the year, Phil lives in the town library with his "wife" Phyllis. He has a protected indoor life. A select group, called the Inner Circle, cares for Phil year-round and plan the annual ceremony. Members of the Inner Circle are noticed by their top hats and tuxedos. Phil currently has two co-handlers, Ben Hughes and John Griffiths. Phil and the town were the basis for the 1993 film Groundhog Day.
Phil is now on the social network as a member of Facebook (no cell phone yet!). His vital statistics and interests are listed as “I am 12 pounds and 20 inches long. I have brown fur and brown eyes. I like eating, sleeping, climbing, and making appearances”. For now, yes, he will make appearances. But that is being threatened by PETA (People for Ethical Treatment of Animals) which claims that the show is cruel and stressful to the groundhog. They are campaigning to” lay off” Phil from his job and replace him with a robot.
The celebrity status of Phil does not go unquestioned by other groundhog groups elsewhere in the country. Punxsutawney's celebration is considered by many as "more storybook and fairy tale" noting that the town claims that Phil has lived for 100 years by sipping a magical punch (a secret recipe) which is given to him every summer at the Groundhog picnic. Each sip is supposed to give him seven more years of life. Talk about modern mythology! Normal lifespan of a groundhog is 6 years in the wild and somewhat longer in captivity.
Dave of Dunkirk, N.Y. Staten Island Chuck
Other states and cities have some rival groundhogs and indulge in weather predicting too on February 2. But none are as well known as Phil although Staten Island Chuck got world-wide attention last year after biting New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg on camera. Peter Laline, general curator of the Staten Island Zoo, says Chuck has been right 22 of the past 29 years. Oxford, Michigan used to have a groundhog, but it died. So now Oxford uses a llama.
Finally, here is a note to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which finds itself in some trouble over the global warming and the predicted melting of Himalayan glaciers by 2035. In Copenhagen, Denmark, some folks introduced a gopher called Bjorn who can predict how warm the planet is getting with the help of a butane torch and some scientists. Bjorn emits a screechy shrill when his behind (a$$) is getting warmer! Perhaps the squirrel that helped Rama build the bridge to Lanka can come back and predict the date of the end of Kali yugam!