Groundhog Day weather forecasts are always a fun pastime. The Almanac predicts either six more weeks of winter—or, um, six more weeks until spring? Just kidding. We know the most well-known groundhog prognosticator is Punxsutawney Phil. We can only imagine the conversation between The Old Farmer and Phil …
The Legend of Groundhog Day
So, the tradition is: If a groundhog sees its shadow on February 2, then there will be 6 more weeks of winter; if it doesn’t, then spring is right around the corner. In other words, if the skies are cloudy, expect no shadow and warmer, springlike weather; if the Sun is out, Phil will see his shadow and winter will persist.
What you may not know is that Groundhog Day is the halfway point between the winter solstice and the spring equinox. This means that no matter what Phil sees, we’ll still have about 6 weeks of winter left. This wacky holiday has its roots in an agricultural past. The midpoint of the season helped to gauge when labors had to be hired for spring planting. Read more about Groundhog Day meaning.
In Europe, the tradition originally called for using hibernating bears and badgers to predict the weather. In the 1800s, Germans emigrated to Pennsylvania; finding no badgers but lots of groundhogs (also called woodchucks or whistlepigs), they adapted the New World species to fit the lore.
In 1887, the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club in Pennsylvania was established. Soon enough, a groundhog named “Punxsutawney Phil” started to develop a reputation as a meteorological wonder (and inspired many other groundhogs from other burrows). As they say in Punxsutawney, it’s “A day to take everything a little less seriously, and break up the winter monotony… at least for a little while!”
In that spirit, let’s imagine a chat with our furry forecaster …
The Old Farmer (peering into the burrow): Phil, are you in there? Rise and shine!
Phil: What? Is it February already? Go away!
The Old Farmer: C’mon, Phil! It’s almost your big day! Looks like it might be a cloudy one on February 2, though. This suggests the rest of winter will be mild, right?
The Old Farmer: All right, I can take a hint. Just one more question: I’m seeing that you have a prediction accuracy of about 39%. What’s up with that?
Phil: I mean, have you ever had to predict the weather on live TV 5 minutes after waking up? That’s a lot of pressure year after year!
Phil: Then go talk to the birds and let me sleep!
The Old Farmer: Ever heard about woolly worms? Persimmon seeds?
Phil: I’m dreaming of decimating your garden plot …
Well, we asked for it. Don’t wake up a groundhog—or a bear, for that matter.
How Accurate Are Groundhogs’ Forecasts?
It’s an odd world when we’re asking this question. Let’s start by saying that this entire practice is tongue-in-cheek.
Apparently, the four-legged creature has only 39 percent accuracy, according to Stormfax data. In 2017, Phil “predicted” 6 more weeks of winter; it was the second-warmest February on record. In 2018, Phil again saw his shadow; however, we had record high temperatures in the Northeast.
Given the groundhog’s North American range, however, it’s probably a safer bet that February 2 will indeed bring more wintry weather.
To us, Groundhog Day encodes a deeper lesson for farmers and gardeners, which is: don’t trust nice weather in February. It’s better to wait too long to plant than to plant too early.
All in all, Groundhog Day is a fun, whimsical way of acknowledging that we’re halfway to spring.
Happy Groundhog Day!
Looking toward spring? Enjoy our Spring Equinox Guide!
Love weather folklore? Learn more about the facts behind weather lore.