How much do you know about Groundhog Day?
The February 2 celebration, which involves a weather-predicting woodchuck, dates back to the late 19th century, with other mid-winter weather holidays dating back hundreds of years before that.
On Groundhog Day, a groundhog in the small town of Punxsutawney emerges in the morning to a throng of onlookers. If he spots his shadow and returns to his hole, it means winter will last six more weeks. If the groundhog does not see his shadow, an early spring is sure to come.
Not to be outdone, many other towns now have their own woodchuck weathermen.
Punxsutawney Phil is the original star of Groundhog Day, however. He first predicted the weather 126 years ago and has had about 39 percent accuracy ever since. Click here to see the see the groundhog's predictions from the past 10 years.
Despite the common tongue-twister, woodchucks (Marmota monax) are burrowing creatures that usually stick to smaller plants. The name woodchuck is likely derived from a Native American term for what are now also called groundhogs. According to Alt Concepts, woodchuck may be derived from the Cree word "otchek" or the similar Ojibwa word "otchig." European settlers "substituted syllables that sounded more familiar and yet approximated the original sound" in a process that is known as folk etymology. According to the Cornell Chronicle, woodchucks are not very good at moving timber, but "some will chew wood." In response to the question "How much wood could a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood," one wildlife biologist reportedly found that the volume of an average woodchuck burrow is equal to about 700 pounds of wood.
According to IMDB, the time on the alarm click in the film "Groundhog Day" isn't strictly accurate. In fact, a sun-filled room at six in the morning on Groundhog Day is actually impossible. In the film, Bill Murray's character starts Groundhog Day everyday at six o'clock. The film makes it appear as though the sun is already up in Punxsutawney, Pennyslvania at six on February 2. Yet a little fact-checking shows that sunrise in the borough on February 2 actually occurs closer to 7:30am. Time and Date confirms the observation.
Did you know the top-hatted men who lead the Punxsutawney Phil ceremony are known as the "Inner Circle?" There are 15 members of the Inner Circle, according to the The Punxsutawney Groundhog Club website. The Inner Circle members (whose pictures and bios are available on the club's website) each have titles that range from standard: President, Secretary/Treasurer; to the uncommon: Thunder Conductor, Iceman and His Protector.
Whenever Punxsutawney Phil sees his shadow and "tells" the Inner Circle (in Groundhogese) that there will be six more weeks of winter, he is always right. February 2 falls close to the halfway point between the winter solstice and the vernal (spring) equinox. Astronomically speaking, there is always about six more weeks of winter after February 2.
Punxsutawney Phil isn't the only one who predicts the weather. First, there is Marmot Day in Alaska. By order of a bill signed by Governor Sarah Palin in 2009, every February 2 in Alaska since 2010 will forever be known as Marmot Day. Across the U.S., other groundhogs with names like Staten Island Chuck, Smith Lake Jake and General Beauregard Lee all offer up their own predictions. In Serbia, a holiday known as Sretenje makes use of the weather-predicting power of bears. According to BootsnAll, a Serbian tradition holds that bears will rise from winter hibernation on February 2. If they see their shadow, they will return to hibernation for another 40 days, making for a longer winter. February 2 is also a Christian feast day known as Candlemas. A traditional rhyme associated with the day goes: If Candlemas be fair and bright, Come, Winter, have another flight; If Candlemas brings clouds and rain, Go Winter, and come not again.
Punxsutawney Phil, the most famous groundhog and weather predictor around, has his life "extended" each summer with the sip of a magical potion. According to the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club website, the average groundhog lifespan is only six to eight years. Phil, however, gets seven more years of life every summer at the "Groundhog Picnic" when he drinks a "magical punch." Even though groundhogs can live up to 10 years in captivity, it seems likely that today's Punxsutawney Phil is not the same prognosticator from 1886.
The name Punxsutawney Phil may be a bit of a mouthful, but that's not even his full name. The weather-predicting groundhog's official name is: "Punxsutawney Phil, Seer of Seers, Sage of Sages, Prognosticator of Prognosticators and Weather Prophet Extraordinaire." The Punxsutawney Groundhog Club notes that Phil is also known as "National Treasure" and "Most Photographed Pennsylvanian."
Groundhog Day in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania may be all about Phil and his prediction, but there's much more to it than that. According to About.com, the weekend around Groundhog Day in Punxsutawney features " a chili cook-off, ice carving exhibitions, trivia contests, a Prognosticators Ball, groundhog day weddings, sleigh rides, woodchuck whittling, the Phil Phind Scavenger Hunt, music, food, fun and games." The Punxsutawney Groundhog Club website features an impressive calendar of events for 2012's big day. Much of the increased popularity around Groundhog Day can be attributed to the 1993 Bill Murray film of the same name. Since the film's release, crowds as large as 30,000 have reportedly gathered to see Punxsutawney Phil in action.
Groundhogs take winter hibernation seriously. That's why they go into "profound hibernation," according to the Cornell Chronicle. They greatly reduce their heart and metabolic rates and their "body temperature drops to just a few degrees above ambient temperature." In a deep burrow below the frost line, this can lead to body temperatures as low as 39 or 40 degrees Fahrenheit (under five degrees Celsius). When they awake in February, groundhogs will have lost almost half of their body weight during hibernation. Talk about an effective diet!
Groundhogs, which are the largest members of the squirrel family, are naturally aggressive and rambunctious creatures. With devotion, however, they can be raised to behave around humans. Doug Schwartz, who works for the Staten Island zoo and trains their namesake's weather predictor, told The New York Times, "The patience involved is staggering." He said, "He's got a brain the size of a cashew, so you really don't have much to work with. They're known for their aggression, so you're starting from a hard place. His natural impulse is to kill 'em all and let God sort 'em out. You have to work to produce the sweet and cuddly."
|@ KenJennings : Wouldn't it be great if we could keep the spirit of Groundhog Day in our hearts all year round?|
|@ Seth__Rogen : I'd like to be the one to explain Groundhogs Day to the aliens when they come. "See, if the groundhog sees its sha--just kill us. Its okay."|
|@ FoodNetwork : This Groundhog's Day menu will keep you warm for 6 more weeks of winter: http://t.co/nLgQxM9E.|
|@ YouTube : Is there anything better than watching "Groundhog Day" on Groundhog Day? Watch the full video for free: http://t.co/Yywvkxjq|
Punxsutawney Phil rival Woodstock Willie also made a prediction today, but his forecast differs from Phil's. Willie, who is from Woodstock, Illinois, didn't see his shadow, delighting midwesterners with the promise of an early spring.
|@ ConanOBrien : I like the name "Groundhog Day" much better than the original "Pull Out The Dirt Rat Time."|
Staten Island Chuck (aka Charles C. Hogg), New York City's answer to Punxsutawney Phil, did not see his shadow this morning and "predicted" an early spring.
He also predicted a New York Giants win at this Sunday's Super Bowl XLVI. Many New Yorkers are hoping that Chuck is right.
|@ neiltyson : Groundhog Day: Evidence that Weather Forecasters still haven't convinced people that they know what they're talking about.|
Did you know that the most famous groundhog weather predictor's full name is: "Punxsutawney Phil, Seer of Seers, Sage of Sages, Prognosticator of Prognosticators and Weather Prophet Extraordinaire?"
|@ MikeBloomberg : Great news from Staten Island Chuck: Spring will come early this year! #groundhogday http://t.co/JBAmmta5|
|@ GMA : Just in: Staten Island Chuck did not see his shadow, predicts early spring for NYC #GroundhogDay|
Curious about the men in top hats in Punxsutawney? Click here to learn about the Inner Circle.
|@ 680News : #GroundHogDay update: Ontario's celebrated groundhog #WiartonWillie did NOT see his shadow, predicting early spring!|
The Associated Press recently reported that according to the Global Snow Lab at Rutgers University, January was the third-least snowy on record for the the Lower 48.
But there is lots of snow and dangerous cold — it's just elsewhere in the world. Valdez, Alaska, has had 328 inches of snow this season — 10 feet above average — and the state is frigid, with Yukon hitting a record 66 below zero over the weekend.
Nearly 80 people have died from a vicious cold snap in Europe, and much of Asia has been blanketed with snow. This January has been the ninth snowiest since 1966 for Europe and Asia, though for the entire northern hemisphere, it's been about average for snow this season.
|@ jaketapper : Today's forecast: "It's gonna be cold. it's gonna be gray. And it's gonna last you for the rest of your life." #GroundHogDay|
|@ GroundhogPhil : BREAKING: A terrifying shadow = 6 more weeks of winter! No complaining. We haven’t even had winter yet.|
Punxsutawney Phil predicts 6 more weeks of winter
Punxsutawney wakes up Phil by chanting his name
The Inner Circle explains, "Phil's prediction is predicated on what Phil tells the President."
The Inner Circle takes to the stage in Punxsutawney, PA to introduce "the Great Oz of weather forecasting."
|@ GroundhogPhil : Fireworks, the National Anthem, dancing girls and bad lip syncing. Is this the Super Bowl or Groundhog day?|
|@ ATL_Events : How can we have 6 more weeks of winter, when we haven't even had 6 weeks of winter yet? #groundhogday|
|@ globalmaritimes : This just in: #ShubenacadieSam didn't see his shadow. Spring is on the way folks, as long as you trust adorable rodents. #GroundhogDay|
|@ EmilyReddy : Fireworks were a pleasant surprise. Also, amazing the coffee was still hot. Now the sky is lightening a bit at Gobbler's Knob. #GroundhogDay|
|@ produceralex : Queen's "Don't Stop Me Now" is rocking the @groundhogphil crowd this morning. We're there live this half hour on @ABCNews4 #chs #chsnews|
|@ accuweather : MT @emilyreddy: PA Gov. Corbett asks for an early spring. The 2nd time in the history of #GroundhogDay a seated gov attended.|
|@ ChattNoogaChuck : "Yawn." Getting ready for my 11 am forecast announcement @TNAquarium. Hmmm. It feels lonely around here. #hint|