PUNXSUTAWNEY, Pa. -- An end to winter's bitter cold will come soon, according to Pennsylvania's famous groundhog.
Following a recent stretch of weather that's included temperatures well below freezing as well as record warmth, tornadoes in the South and Midwest and torrential rains in the mid-Atlantic, Punxsutawney Phil emerged from his lair Saturday in front of thousands but didn't see his shadow.
Legend has it that if the furry rodent sees his shadow on Feb. 2 on Gobbler's Knob in west-central Pennsylvania, winter will last six more weeks. But if he doesn't see his shadow, spring will come early.
The prediction is made during a ceremony overseen by a group called the Inner Circle. Members don top hats and tuxedos for the ceremony on Groundhog Day each year.
Bill Deeley, president of the Inner Circle, says that after "consulting" with Phil, he makes the call in deciphering what the world's Punxsutawney Phil has to say about the weather.
Phil is known as the "seer of seers" and "sage of sages." Organizers predicted about 20,000 people this weekend, a larger-than-normal crowd because Groundhog Day falls on a weekend this year.
"I just hope he's right and we get warmer weather soon," said Mike McKown, 45, an X-ray technician who drove up from Lynchburg, Va., with his mother.
Phil's got company in the forecasting department. There's Staten Island Chuck, in New York; General Beauregard Lee, in Atlanta; and Wiarton Willie, in Wiarton, Ontario, among others noted by the National Climatic Data Center "Groundhog Day" Web page.
"Punxsutawney can't keep something this big to itself," the Data Center said. "Other prognosticating rodents are popping up to claim a piece of the action."
Phil is the original – and the best, Punxsutawney partisans insist.
The 1993 movie "Groundhog Day" starring Bill Murray brought even more notoriety to the Pennsylvania party. The record attendance was about 30,000 the year after the movie's release, said Katie Donald, executive director of the Groundhog Club. About 13,000 attend if Feb. 2 falls on a weekday.
Phil's predictions, of course, are not always right on. Last year, for example, he told people to prepare for six more weeks of winter, a minority opinion among his groundhog brethren. The Northeast Regional Climate Center at Cornell University later listed that January to June as the warmest seven-month period since systematic records began being kept in 1895.
"We'll just mark it up as a mistake last year. He'll be correct this year," McKown said hopefully.
Ron Todt reported from Philadelphia.
Also on HuffPost:
Groundhog Or Woodchuck?
<a href="http://www.news.cornell.edu/chronicle/96/2.1.96/facts.html">Groundhogs and woodchucks</a> are actually the same thing. (They also go by whistle-pigs, but we will get to that later.)
Woodchuck Is A Misnomer
According to Scientific American, <a href="http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/thoughtful-animal/2012/02/02/7-things-you-didnt-know-about-groundhogs/">the term “woodchuck” has nothing to do with chuckin’ wood</a>, but rather stems from the Algonquin name for the animal, <em>wuchak</em>. In fact, their diets mostly consist of plants, fruits and tree bark.
However, The Name "Groundhog" Is Not
Calling this guy a "groundhog" is a lot more straightforward than “woodchuck.” National Geographic explains that <a href="http://animals.nationalgeographic.com/animals/mammals/groundhog/">the furry rodents spend the summer gorging themselves</a>, get pretty plump (almost hog-like, one might say), and then spend the rest of the year <a href="http://science.howstuffworks.com/zoology/all-about-animals/hibernation1.htm">hibernating underground</a>.
Their Fur Has A History
You probably won’t see groundhog coats on the runway anytime soon (thankfully). However, the Cornell Chronicle notes that their hairs were once integral to the American Indians, who <a href="http://www.news.cornell.edu/chronicle/96/2.1.96/facts.html">used woodchuck hides to make moccasin soles</a>.
They Have Been Very Helpful To The Medical Community
Woodchucks hold a very special place in the heart of scientists at the Cornell College of Veterinary Medicine. For over 15 years, <a href="http://www.news.cornell.edu/chronicle/96/2.1.96/groundhog.html">medical breakthroughs in liver disease prevention</a> have been made through studying groundhogs.
They Are Pretty Fantastic Swimmers And Climbers
<a href="http://www.mnn.com/earth-matters/animals/stories/6-things-most-people-dont-know-about-groundhog-day">Groundhogs may look slow and pudgy</a>, but you would be amazed to see how well they can shimmy up a tree or paddle across a lake.
These Guys Whistle While They Work
As mentioned in the first slide, <a href="http://www.cbsnews.com/2316-100_162-1273934-6.html">groundhogs are sometimes referred to as “whistle-pigs,”</a> since they whistle when they are alarmed... and when they are looking to catch a lady. Play the video to listen.
They Should Be Living Every Day As Their Last (Except For Phil)
According to the University of Michigan’s museum of zoology, <a href="http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/site/accounts/information/Marmota_monax.html">groundhogs can only live about 4-6 years in the wild</a>, and up to 10 years in captivity. However, <a href="http://www.groundhog.org/groundhog-day/fun-facts/">Punxsutawney Phil supposedly drinks a “magical” elixir</a> at the Groundhog Day picnic, which some insist has kept him alive for more than 126 years!
Also On The Huffington Post...
Groundhog co-handler John Griffiths discusses the origins of Groundhog Day and how the groundhog decides if it's winter for six more weeks or an early spring.