Thursday is Groundhog Day; but just how accurate is Phil?

Published 2:00 pm Wednesday, February 1, 2023

Thursday, Feb. 2 is Groundhog Day.

The long-standing tradition in the United States and Canada derives from the Pennsylvania Dutch superstition that if a groundhog emerges from its burrow on this day and sees its shadow (due to clear weather), it will retreat to its den and winter will continue for six more weeks, according to Pennsylvania historian Don Yoder. If it does not see its shadow (due to cloudiness), spring will come early.

The official groundhog prognosticator is known as Punxsutawney Phil, since the town of the same name is home to the furry forecasting creature.

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According to the official website of the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club, there has only ever been one, immortal, Punxsutawney Phil. He’s been forecasting since 1887, so the approximately 20-pound marmot has reportedly lived more than 136 years, which is about 23-plus times the normal lifespan of this largest member of the squirrel family.

So the old guy must have developed a fairly accurate way to predict the weather, one would hope.

Well, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) National Centers for Environmental Information, “Phil’s track record for the entire country isn’t perfect.”

NOAA compared U.S. national temperatures with Phil’s forecasts, and determined that Phil had “gotten it right” approximately 40 percent of the time, which is less than just random chance. Other assessments conducted by meteorologists and societies have ranked his accuracy as anywhere from 28 percent to 70 percent.

Part of the problem with determining accuracy comes with defining what “an early spring” means.

Whatever his success rate, P. Phil will be ushered or beckoned from his burrow at 6:30 a.m. Central Standard Time and see either his shadow or the clouds. But only the top-hatted member of the Inner Circle of his handlers will be able to interpret for the world what Phil whispers in his ear.

So Thursday morning, let Phil — or the Inner Circle, or your local meteorologist — predict the weather for you. Then, if you don’t have to head to work, you can head back into your own burrow, and maybe even watch the 1993 comedy “Groundhog Day” again, because at least then you’ll know what to expect.