Groundhog Day: More than a Furry Forecast and a Movie

Groundhog Day has its roots in an ancient Celtic celebration called Imbolog. This date is the midpoint between the winter solstice and the spring equinox. In an agrarian society that was very dependent on the weather, this was a time to celebrate having made it halfway through winter. The superstition arose that if the weather was fair on Imbolog, the second half of the winter would be cold and stormy, but if the weather was cold and overcast or stormy, the second half of the winter would be mild.

In Christian times, February 2nd was celebrated as Candlemas, but the earlier Imbolog superstition continued. In Scotland they said, ``If Candlemas be bright and clear, there'll be two winters in the year'' and in England, they said, ``If Candlemas be sunny and warm, ye may mend your mittens and look for a storm.''

The Romans learned of this tradition from the Celts, and eventually brought them to the area that would become Germany. Eventually German immigrants brought these beliefs to Pennsylvania. Their tradition of predicting the weather became centered on the woodchuck, or groundhog, and if he could see his shadow, there would be six more weeks of winter.

A newspaper in Punxsutawney, PA helped keep the tradition alive and in 1887 declared Phil as America’s official forecasting groundhog. As the story became embellished each year the other newspapers picked it up and the rest as they say is history. Regionally there have been a number of other furry rodent contenders such as General Beauregard Lee of Atlanta, Sir Walter Wally in Raleigh, NC and Jimmy of Sun Prairie, WI.  And in 1993 the motion picture "Groundhog Day" popularized the event even further.

NOAA's National Climatic Data Center's look at this tradition and some of the associated climatology is at  

Today it has been reported that Punxsutawney Phil did see his shadow this morning (despite a Winter Storm Warning still being in effect) and forecasted six more weeks of winter for 2015.

Jan Null, CCM
Golden Gate Weather Services