The Groundhog, The Myth, The Legend: Punxsutawney Phil

Every year on February 2nd, hundreds turn on their TV waiting to hear what the next six or so weeks will look like. Whether it’s six more weeks of winter or if spring will come early, it’s all forecasted and told by a groundhog named… Punxsutawney Phil. And waiting to catch the famous groundhog’s forecast goes back as far as the 1800s.

The first Groundhog Day forecast dates back to as late as February 2nd, 1886 in Punxsutawney, Philadelphia. In The Punxsutawney Spirit, the newspaper editor, Clymer Freas, was also a member of the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club, said that the groundhog did not see his shadow, predicting there would be an early Spring. He used his editorial position to say that Punxsutawney was the one and only forecasting groundhog.

Since then, not only has the tradition continued but it picked up more and more followers. Soon, Punxsutawney Phil was forecasting for hundreds and in 1993, his forecasting skill had gained so much popularity it inspired a movie. But how accurate is Phil? After all, he has all year to predict only a 6 week period (I wonder where he gets that long range data from…).

With records going as far back as the 1800s, you’d think that Punxsutawney Phil would have a pretty decent average by the year 2017. There have been around 129 predictions made by Phil over the years, with him seeing his shadow around 111 times and not seeing it around 18 (there have been some years where there were no predictions… must be nice). Those numbers leave Punxsutawney Phil with a 39% accuracy rate. However, if we look back at only the last 10 years, his accuracy shoots up to around 50%. I guess it isn’t easy for groundhogs to forecast weather either…

So what can we expect for the next 6 weeks according to the famous groundhog? On the morning of February 2nd, 2017, Punxsutawney Phil saw his shadow which means that we can expect 6 more weeks of winter. We’ll have to see how his forecast shapes up… because, according to a Twitter poll, over half of those that voted trust Punxsutawney Phil over morning meteorologist Blaise Keller.

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