Groundhog Day: You can’t bank on Punxsutawney Phil

PITTSBURGH — One of my favorite and least favorite days of the year is upon us: Groundhog Day.

Sadly, Gobbler’s Knob in Punxsutawney will be quiet this year. Phil, like many of us, went virtual due to COVID-19 concerns. But he still made his prediction for the rest of winter at sunrise Tuesday -- six more weeks of winter.

I love the day because no other day on the calendar brings so much attention to the weather worldwide. However, I am astounded by how many people believe it to be a serious, scientific forecast that you can bank on.

The Climate Prediction Center puts Phil’s accuracy rate at less than 40% over the last 130+ years.

I have been part of the annual festivities for work and for fun. I truly believe it is something everyone should have on their “bucket list,” just to say they did it. It is truly an amazing scene watching nearly 30,000 people cram onto a hilltop outside of downtown Punxsutawney to watch a rodent get pulled from a tree stump and dictate the mood of millions of people across the world with his prognostication. LOVE IT! I plan on taking my kids when they get older.

Since 1887, Phil has seen his shadow 104 times (six more weeks of winter) and has not seen his shadow only 20 times (spring is near). That should be your first indicator that something is afoot. You’re telling me the sun has been shining 104 times on Feb. 2 in northwestern Pennsylvania in the last 134 years!?! Have you seen our weather in the winter around here?

Phil has had some colossal goofs, even in recent years. In 2013, Phil predicted an early spring only to have two and a half feet of snowfall in the area over the next two months. Just five years ago, Phil again predicted an early spring. We had snow in May that year.

The history of Groundhog Day goes back centuries to early Christianity and marks Candlemas, the end of the Christmas season. The clergy would bless candles for the rest of the winter season. If the sun was shining when the candles were delivered, it meant more winter was ahead. This has evolved over centuries and across various cultures into what we celebrate today as Groundhog Day.

It is one of the greatest annual traditions in the world, and celebrated right here in our own backyard. Seriously, if you haven’t been to Punxsutawney for Groundhog Day, take it in some year. Your memories of it will last a lifetime. Just remember, regardless of what Phil says, spring doesn’t officially begin until March 21.