February 2, 2010—It's Groundhog Day 2010, and the United States' most famous groundhog, Punxsutawney Phil, (pictured with co-handler John Griffiths) has spoken: "As the skies shine bright above me, my shadow I see beside me. Six more weeks of winter it will be." (Get Groundhog Day facts.)
Tradition has it that if the furry oracle emerges from his burrow in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, on February 2 and sees his shadow, winter weather will continue for six more weeks across the United States. If Phil doesn't see his shadow, then spring temperatures are just around the corner.
To communicate his forecast, Punxsutawney Phil "speaks" to his human caretakers—the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club's Inner Circle—in Groundhogese. The Inner Circle then translates Phil's words for the world to hear—or so they say.
"Groundhog Day is a lot like a rock concert, but the people are better behaved and there's a groundhog involved," said Tom Chapin, editor of the Punxsutawney Spiritnewspaper.
Photograph by Jason Cohn, Reuters
Groundhog Day 1963
The famous rodent seer makes a prediction of more winter weather in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, on Groundhog Day in 1963.
The Groundhog Day ceremony originated shortly around 1887, when a group of groundhog hunters from Punxsutawney (map) dubbed themselves the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club and declared their adopted rodent, Punxsutawney Phil, the one and only "official" weather-prognosticating groundhog.
According to Punxsutawney folklore, Phil owes his 123-year-plus lifespan to an "elixir of life," served every summer at the annual Groundhog Picnic, of which there are curiously no photographs.
Photograph from Bettman/Corbis
Also known as woodchucks, groundhogs (pictured, a groundhog in Ohio) are native to most of Canada and the eastern U.S.
The average groundhog is 20 inches (51 centimeters) long and weighs about 12 to 15 pounds (5.4 to 6.8 kilograms). Punxsutawney Phil is exceptional not only for his purported clairvoyance but also his size: He weighs in at about 20 pounds (9.1 kilograms) and measures about 22 inches (55.9 centimeters) long.
When he's not predicting the weather, Phil makes his home at the Groundhog Zoo, an annex of the Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, library.
An elderly woman prays by candlelight during a Candlemas service at London's Westminster Cathedral in 1938.
According to legend, Groundhog Day is based in part on Candlemas, a holiday that celebrates the Virgin Mary's presentation of Jesus at the Temple in Jerusalem 40 days after his birth.
Tradition held that the weather on Candlemas is important. One centuries-old English saying states: "If Candlemas be fair and bright, come winter have another flight. If Candlemas brings cloud and rain, go winter, and not come again."
Photograph from Hulton-Deutsch Collection, Corbis
In addition to Candlemas, Groundhog Day is also supposedly based on the ancient Roman belief that hedgehogs (such as this one, pictured in the U.K.), were useful weather prognosticators.
According to legend, the Romans believed that if the early days of February are sunny and a hedgehog casts a shadow, then winter temperatures will persist for six more weeks.
These two traditions melded in Germany, and the result was brought over to the United States by German immigrants who settled in Pennsylvania. Lacking hedgehogs, the German settlers substituted native groundhogs in the ritual, and Groundhog Day was born.
Photograph by Les Stocker, Photolibrary
Punxsutawney Phil's Competition
Faye Witherell, the director of the Queens Zoo in New York City, and New York City Parks Commissioner Henry Stern await the emergence of the zoo's own weather-predicting rodent on Groundhog Day 1984.
Sam Light, former president of the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club, poses with a stuffed stand-in for Phil—and a sign that turned out to reflect Phil's later prediction—a few days before Groundhog Day 1961.
While Phil's proponents maintain that his predictions are 100 percent accurate, the U.S. National Climatic Data Center has estimated that Phil is only correct about 40 percent of the time.
But to obsess over the accuracy of Phil's predictions is to miss the point, the Punxsutawney Spirit's editor Tom Chapin said. "It's more about having fun."
Photograph from AP
Groundhog Day Fans
Each year on Groundhog Day, thousands of fans make the trek to Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, to hear Phil's forecast (above, visitors await the outcome in 2008).
The site of the prediction, a rural hill called Gobbler's Knob, is open to visitors beginning about 3 a.m. Phil's prognostication is usually made around 7:30 a.m.
In 2010, for the first time, people also had the option of receiving Phil's forecast via text message, on Twitter, or on Facebook. A live Web cast of the event was also provided by the Pennsylvania's tourism division.