How did a groundhog get to be such a famous weather forecaster?

Groundhog Club co-handler Al Dereume holds Punxsutawney Phil, the weather prognosticating groundhog, during the 132nd celebration of Groundhog Day on Gobbler's Knob in Punxsutawney, Pa. Friday, Feb. 2, 2018. Phil's handlers said that the groundhog has forecast six more weeks of winter weather. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

So Punxsutawney Phil saw his shadow today, meaning six more weeks of winter.

Those in the Northwest are probably scratching their heads wondering: Do you mean a "real" winter? Or the "winter" we've had so far, which had just a few minutes below freezing in Seattle since the start of 2018.

Peeking at the long range models, I'm leaning toward the version of winter we put in quotes.

But how did this whole 6 weeks weather prediction based on a mammal's shadow thing get started?

In a quick scan of the Internet, I've found conflicting information. Some say the Germans started the tradition and it revolves around the original English version of Candlemas Day, which is both 40 days after Christmas and the exact midpoint of winter -- we're 6 weeks in and have 6 weeks to go (at least for "astronomical winter". "Meteorological winter" ends on March 1 and in the Northwest, after the first week or so in March, any chances of a blast of arctic air become quite remote.)

Apparently this Candlemas Day was akin to opposite weather day. If you saw the sun today, you were doomed to 6 weeks of foul, winter weather. A cloudy day, and spring is just around the corner. Or more specifically: "For as the sun shines on Candlemas Day, so far will the snow swirl in May."

Of the sites I found, this one has the best information of the story of how we have our current tradition of Punxsutawney Phil.

As for this year, it's the 104th time he saw his shadow since 1886, with just 18 times he has not seen his shadow (10 years there are no records.) That is an 85 percent average for seeing his shadow, and if that seems sunnier than it should be in the Mid-Atlantic in the heart of winter, you would be right. When looking at NOAA data for central Pennsylvania, and there is a 66 percent chance of overcast or mostly overcast skies on any given Feb. 2 morning.

Hmm... I suppose with all the media coverage and ensuing bright stage lights and camera flashes, I don't see how he ever not casts some sort of shadow. Maybe they and Sequim have figured out the magic of sunshine on demand?

Then again, the main Groundhog Day web site boasts 100% accuracy, but as long as you get one snowstorm and a sunny day within the next six weeks, I suppose it verifies either way. At least, that's what I'm supposed to say -- that it verifies every year -- according to their site. They state: "Any interpretation of this data by secondary experts, meteorologists, and others are feeble attempts to undermine the statistics below. To quote our Inner Circle president, 'There are a lot of important events in life, and Groundhog Day is not one of them.' "

(No, save that angst for the Farmer's Almanac, right?)

But as far as this winter goes? The actual forecasters show Phil might be right for his neck of the woods, but not so much around here:


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