Since 1887, Groundhog Day has been a beloved American celebration in which seasonal weather predictions are left in the hands of a groundhog.

The superstitious observance began in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania – where Punxsutawney Phil got his name and his start as a rodent meteorologist. 

Each year on Feb. 2, thousands of spectators travel to the small town and gather at Gobbler’s Knob park to view Punxsutawney Phil’s prediction in real time.

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If Punxsutawney Phil sees his shadow at daybreak and runs away, tradition dictates that he has predicted that there will be six more weeks of a chilly winter. 

If there is no shadow, he has predicted that spring will arrive early. 

The occasion has been a popular one in both Pennsylvania and pop culture. 

In 1993, the Bill Murray comedy film “Groundhog Day” was released about a weatherman who covers the event in Punxsutawney. Murray’s character gets stuck in a time loop, causing him to relive Feb. 2 over and over again. 

The past few years of predictions have been fairly even, with the groundhog seeing his shadow in 2018, indicating six more weeks of winter, and then not seeing it in 2019, meaning an early spring. 

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In 2020, he did not see his shadow, but then he saw it again both in 2021 and in 2022. 

Last year, the groundhog saw his shadow at 7:25 a.m. 

The annual weather prediction ceremony is hosted by the Groundhog Club Inner Circle, a group of local dignitaries who care for Punxsutawney Phil and help arrange special festivities. 

Even though Punxsutawney Phil’s weather prediction is the one people gather to see, the groundhog’s prediction is made ahead of the big moment by the group on Gobbler’s Knob, a location very close to Punxsutawney, just around 65 miles away from Pittsburgh.

Club members work “to protect and perpetuate the legend of the great weather-predicting groundhog Punxsutawney Phil,” according to The Punxsutawney Groundhog Club’s website.

While the quirky day got its start in the late 19th century, historians believe Groundhog Day stems from Candlemas, a Christian holiday that dates back to the fourth century. 

Throughout Europe, observers of Candlemas would take candles to local churches for winter blessings.

Surviving records show that the idea of weather-predicting animals was introduced during Candlemas festivities held in Germany. These animals included badgers, hedgehogs, bears and foxes. 

Dutch groups who migrated to Pennsylvania adopted the lore of weather-predicting badgers and hedgehogs. It appears that over time, the lore shifted to include groundhogs due to Pennsylvania’s limited badger population and lack of native hedgehogs. 

Groundhogs – also known as woodchucks – are one of the Keystone State’s “most widely distributed mammals,” according to the Penn State Extension College of Agricultural Sciences.  

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A preserved diary entry from Morgantown, West Virginia storekeeper James Morris is one of the earliest recordings of groundhog weather predictors. His handwritten note, which is held by the Historical Society of Berks County in Reading, Pennsylvania, dates to Feb. 4, 1841.

The diary entry says, “Last Tuesday, the 2nd, was Candlemas Day, the day on which, according to the Germans, the Groundhog peeps out of his winter quarters and if he sees his shadow he pops back for another six weeks’ nap, but if the day be cloudy he remains out, as the weather is to be moderate.”

Although Groundhog Day is a fun annual pastime in the U.S, meteorologists at the National Weather Service State College recommend folks get their weather forecasts from trained professionals. Phil actually has a pretty low percentage rate when it comes to his predictions being correct. According to the Stormfax Almanac, the groundhog’s prediction has only been right 39% of the time. 

Cortney Moore contributed reporting. 

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