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Tracing the origins of Groundhog Day


On February 2 groundhogs take over and do all the forecasting
On February 2 groundhogs take over and do all the forecasting

Chris St. Clair, Weather Broadcaster, The Weather Network

January 31, 2013 — Rodents donít really predict the weather, but there is one day a year when we cast aside science and rely on a Groundhog to do just that.

Will the groundhogs see their shadow this year?
Will the groundhogs see their shadow this year?

February 2nd is Groundhog Day.†

We can trace the modern origins of Groundhog Day back to Pennsylvanian Germans in the 18th century who celebrated a bit of European weather lore that suggested a badger or bear would emerge from its winter lair to prognosticate the weather. This notion is similar to the Pagan Imbolc festival which is the turning point of the winter season on the ancient Celtic calendar.†

The earliest reference to Groundhog Day comes from a storekeeper in Berks County Pennsylvania on February 4th 1841. James Morris wrote that February 2nd was Candlemas Day, celebrated by local Germans who waited to see if groundhogs would appear from their burrows. If the animals saw their shadows, they would retreat for a six week nap, but, ďif the day be cloudy, they remain out, as they weather is to be moderate."

There is some scientific reality in all of this fun.†

In the northern hemisphere, the first official day of Spring, the equinox, is always 46 to 48 days after Groundhog Day. February 2nd is also a time when we really begin notice that the sun is making significant inroads against the darkness of winter.†

The Groundhog seems to be the arbitrator in how much more winter we will enjoy or endure (depending on personal perspective). Groundhog purists say that the rodent is correct in its prediction more than 75% of the time. A study of 13 Canadian cities over the past 35 years reveals that the prevailing weather patterns gave the Groundhog a success rate of 37%.†

In Canada, our presiding groundhog is Wiarton Willie, he and his relatives have been providing predictions since 1956. The festival in Wiarton, Ontario attracts over ten thousand people and has been named one of the provinces best festivals.

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