If you’re an avid watcher of The Weather Channel, you know just how seriously the network takes Groundhog Day. Every year Jim Cantore, Jen Carfagno, and their respective crews travel to Punxsutawney, PA in order to witness Punxsutawney Phil make his meteorological prediction about the upcoming season. However, Phil’s hometown isn’t a huge metropolis… The population is under 6,000. There aren’t enough accommodations in the small town to host the thousands of visitors they get every year around February 2nd. So what do The Weather Channel’s multiple crews do in order to secure housing close to the action? They stay with host families. And we decided that it’s high time the world got to know about the welcoming and kind-hearted folks that take care of our crews year after year. Meet the 3 host families!
When and how did you get into hosting for The Weather Channel?
Mary Ann K.: Joe and I have been hosting TWC persons since 2009 when Stephanie Abrams was inducted into the Punxsutawney Weather Discovery Center Meteorologist Hall of Fame. Often times our home is the location of the local cocktail party on Groundhog eve after the banquet. Local groundhog club members, guest celebs and dignitaries as well as friends usually stop by for a drink, snack and socialization. Nothing formal, just an gathering place for friends, new and old.
Emily C.: Jim is Chairman of the Board at the Punxsutawney Weather Discovery Center which is home to the Meteorology Hall of Fame. It was through that organization that the connection began. A new weather related personality is inducted each Groundhog Day. Stephanie Abrams was inducted into the HOF in 2009 and was first to come here. We met her then but did not actually host her. In 2011 our inductee was Dr. Greg Forbes. Punxsutawney having a population of < 7,000 and about 100 hotel rooms, hosts around 10,000 visitors for GH Day. So housing special visitors is what we do & works best. Dr. Forbes, Jen Carfagno (who came to cover Dr F’s induction) & Producer Mike Jenkins all stayed with us that year. That was the start of our relationship with TWC.
Peggy J.: I like to say I am basically the reason Jim Cantore first came to Punxsutawney!! (Well, the Weather Discovery Center and I both.) I was an active board member on the Punxsutawney Weather Discovery Center board of directors and in 2012, I was appointed chairwoman of the Meteorology Hall of Fame Committee. During the summer months of that year, my committee was tasked with reviewing names of individuals that had been submitted to us for consideration for being inducted into our Meteorology Hall of Fame. Each year, the Weather Center recognizes the contributions of a local or national man or woman who has made significant contributions to the field of meteorology. That year, being my first year not only ON the committee, but as CHAIR of the committee, I believe I broke tradition and nominated someone myself (I thought, what the heck, I am chair of the committee, I can do this!) So, right off the bat, before any other discussion was held at our meeting, I said to my committee, “I want to nominate Jim Cantore.” The members of the committee just looked at me with blank expressions on their face, like they were saying, “Yeah, right.” But the committee couldn’t argue with me that Jim would be a stellar candidate. Jim Cantore is one of the most recognized faces in weather and reports on location with such enthusiasm and passion. So, our short meeting was adjourned. I promptly wrote Jim a letter asking him to please consider his induction into the Meteorology Hall of Fame on February 2nd, 2013, Groundhog Day. And he accepted. The rest is history—Jim Cantore has embraced Groundhog Day since then! He has attended Groundhog Day every year since then, except one, when he was assigned to cover a severe weather event in New England and he was unable to attend our festivities.
Our community has minimal hotel or motel establishments, and those we have are booked a year in advance for Groundhog Day, so inductees for the Meteorology Hall of Fame have always stayed in the homes of various Weather Center board members. That years, when discussion was held about housing Jim for Groundhog Day, I practically jumped out of my seat, yelling, “I get Jim Cantore!” I had exhibited such excitement at his nomination and acceptance of my letter, and had been a huge fan of his for a decade or more, I felt that there was no way some other board member was going to get to put him up for the event! No way! No board members argued with me! Jim was staying with my husband Jon and I. Our daughter Anna, who was away at college at the time, would likely come home for the weekend to attend festivities. So, not only was I going to get to MEET Jim Cantore in person, but he was going to stay at my house!
Mike Jenkins, Dr. Greg Forbes, Emily C., Jen Carfagno, and Jim C.
Do you have kids that live with you? If so, do they excited about the annual guests?
Mary Ann: We have a large home in Punxsutawney in which we have raised our 5 children. Not all of our children can return home for Groundhog Day every year, leaving some empty bedrooms. These serve well as guest rooms and we enjoy our home most when the rooms are full, especially on holidays such as Groundhog Day. In 2009 when we hosted our first Weather Channel guest, our 18 year old twins and their 20 year old sister were home from college with their room mates and friends. Our home was comfortably busy and everybody seemed to enjoy celebrating Groundhog Day with some new friends and “family”.
Emily: Our 2 daughters are grown and live away. But yes, not only they but some of our extended families are often here for GH Day festivities and also have met and spent time with TWC’s people. We refer to each other as “our Punxsy or TWC family”.
Peggy: We have one daughter, Anna, who was in college at the time Jim was inducted, but she frequently came home for Groundhog Day to join in the festivities with her friends. The first time Jim Cantore first stayed with us, he was already at our house when she arrived home. While I was utterly star-struck and tongue-tied in his presence, both nervous and excited to get to meet JIM CANTORE, Anna was very nonchalant, said hello like he was the neighbor. They chatted a bit, and she soon went upstairs to her room, like he was just some guy. I was flabbergasted. How could she not be enraptured by his presence??? Jim Cantore is in our house! Well, it turned out, I was overwhelmed enough for the two of us!
Do you tell people you host TWC employees for Groundhog Day or do you keep it a secret for privacy reasons? If it’s not a secret, has anyone ever come to your house in the hopes of meeting them?
Mary Ann: While we don’t boast of having celebs in our home to our friends and family, we don’t go out of our way to make this information secretive. While respecting the privacy of our guests and recognizing their need to complete their work assignments, we’ve never encountered a problem where by any on-air celebs, technical persons, or management individuals (including COO Freddy Flaxman) have been made to feel uncomfortable or have unrealistic expectations because of who they are. We want them to get their work done, foster some new friendships and relationships, and be allowed to enjoy the celebration as one of our family.
Emily: It has become known around town. Some have now started referring to Jen C and Mike J as our “adopted kids”. Yes, many other local friends have joined us for our breakfast buffet after the festivities at The Knob are over or after the GH Day eve banquet and enjoy meeting and hanging out with them. They’re all invited and know they are welcome. Can’t say that we’ve ever had uninvited people stop by.
Peggy: Because it’s a small town, people pretty much know Jim stays with us. But whenever I meet someone from out of town who just loves Groundhog Day, at a restaurant or a mall, I ask them if they watch The Weather Channel. When they say yes, I take out my phone and show them a selfie of me and Jim Cantore from his most recent visit and they are amazed! Everyone knows Jim Cantore! All the clerks gather around, we talk and laugh and chat about Gobblers Knob and Phil and Jim Cantore and Jen Carfagno, and how they want to come to Punxsy someday for Groundhog Day. I tell them they MUST come! We definitely have had a few friends, and friends of friends, ask to stop by to meet Jim because they are huge fans. He is more than willing to accommodate!
If you work, do you take days off when the guests arrive? Or do you get GHD off in your town?
Mary Ann: Perhaps people don’t understand how important Groundhog Day is…. Schools close and the locals all seem to find a way to modify their schedules around the activities. It’s a holiday that is too important to not have fun and make new friends, all for no quantifiable reason!
Emily: I’m employed by the school district and that day is always a day off from school for the whole district. Jim is self-employed so is available. But many people locally take off a day or two to be part of the activities, volunteer, etc.
Jon: There is so much to do for Groundhog Day, as an Inner Circle member I take time off to attend to Groundhog duties. Peggy is mainly responsible for the hosting and she will chauffeur and cook and entertain during the downtime.
Are there certain employees you typically host year after year?
Mary Ann: We’re really not fussy about who stays with us and ALL of them have been great! We’ve hosted on-air folks as well as technical persons such as Anthony Quintano and Matt Saffer.
Emily: Jen Carfagno, Mike Jenkins, Trish Ragsdale & Matt Saffer have all stayed at with us multiple times. Dr. Forbes once. Others; Freddy Flaxman, Jen Watson, Stephanie Abrams, & Jim Cantore all have been to our house while here & we have joined them at the homes of 2 other families & friends of ours who have hosted them.
Emily C., Jen Carfagno, Trish Ragsdale, and Erin C.
Peggy: We only host Jim Cantore of TWC at our home, but one year, we did have a marvelous dinner party for 10 one evening with Jen Carfagno, Mike Jenkins, Trish Ragsdale and some of our friends from the Weather Center board of directors. It was a lovely and fun-filled evening hanging out, eating, drinking, laughing and telling stories. Kind of surreal, because I watch Jen and Jim on TV everyday, and they were in our house!
What’s your favorite thing about having employees stay with you for the holiday?
Emily: It’s great fun and they seem to enjoy the entire atmosphere. They and TWC we feel “get it” about GH Day. It’s a holiday that Punxsutawney “owns” and it’s about weather (what’s not to like about that?). They get into the idea that you can have fun with weather and enjoy it’s traditions along with some silliness thrown in.
Peggy: Jim brings a tremendous level of enthusiasm with him, not only for the weather, but for Groundhog Day. He loves our town’s enthusiasm for this crazy- fun holiday and he clearly enjoys interacting with people in the community—locals and visitors from all over the world! He exudes positive energy and excitement, and loves meeting people, having his picture taken, signing autographs, and sharing a beer at the local establishment.
Jon: I just enjoy spending time with Jim. He is a lot of fun, very responsive to fans and as excited about his job as anyone I know. We stay in contact throughout the year, text about fishing and skiing expeditions we’ve been on, so Groundhog Day is a little reunion every year.
Do you have any fun behind-the-scenes scoop about how TWC employees gear up for Groundhog Day?
Mary Ann: Most of the TWC staff come to Punxsutawney with barely adequate clothing appropriate for Groundhog Day. Here, we have quite an array of seasonal groundhog sweatshirts, headgear, and of course colorful groundhog beads…not just to keep them warm on a frosty February night, but also to distract from any geeky meteorologist and or tourist appearance. Also our friends and followers of TWC are impressed with how one of the fearless TWC leaders, Jim Cantore fuels up to keep warm and appealing to the audience for a holiday as important as Groundhog Day.
Emily: They have a very hectic schedule during the time they’re here & spend lots of time outdoors, so our garage usually has lots of TWC outerwear, cases for equipment, etc. Getting each of them around to places they need to be, sometimes in a lot of snow or ice, can be challenging but fun at the same time. We’ve actually had live segments shot from each our garage, backyard & driveway at times. They all know how to dress and what to prepare for and now have learned their way around town almost like locals. Of course, it’s not that big of a town!
Peggy: Jim operates on very few hours sleep. I don’t know HOW he is so chipper and lively during his live morning coverage at Gobbler’s Knob with Jen Carfagno on Groundhog Day! He has so much fun immersing himself in all the festivities in town the night before, that he crashes hard very late at night (actually the wee hours of the morning on Groundhog Day morning). Then, Jon has to really pound on his bedroom door to wake him up to get him going—at about 3 am—because Jim has to bundle up in his TWC and Groundhog garb to get ready for hours of freezing or sometimes sub-zero temperatures at the Knob (I will let slip, Jim likes to sleep until the last possible second). He loves adorning himself with a huge groundhog hat each year. The other thing that amazes me is how light Jim travels—one small duffel bag. I guess guys are like that. One year, he did not pack a business casual outfit for the Groundhog Banquet, which is always held the evening before Groundhog Day at our local high school cafeteria, with about 450 people in attendance. (But how could he pack a sports coat, when he packs in a duffel bag?) Fortunately, one of our weekend guests that year, Scott Wise, had a blazer that fit Jim PERFECTLY!!! Now, we all know Jim is quite the stud…..so Scott was pretty pumped up that Jim Cantore fit in his sport coat! We still comment on how studly Scott is, because he is built exactly like Jim Cantore!
What’s the most interesting thing you’ve learned about TWC’s coverage of the holiday?
Mary Ann: Perhaps one of the most notable aspects of the relationship between TWC and Punxsutawney is the fascination of establishing for their viewers the art of weather forecasting as well as the science that you present. Weather is serious but it also can be fun and certainly our celebration here attests to to this.
Emily: How much goes into every short segment & how so often things change on the fly and how well they handle it all. On GH Day, most everyone is up very early. You can sleep on Feb. 3rd! Best memory of that…………..in 2011; we had a heavy ice storm and the sound/camera truck that was coming was stuck on I-80. Jen C & Dr. F were to be live on the air and no truck! Mike J was producing and somehow shot the first live segment of Jen & Dr. F from our driveway on his phone and we were watching it live in our kitchen. That was amazing!
Jon J.: I think for me it is how enthusiastic the employees are, and I am not liking that word because these people are much more friends to us, are about coming to Punxsy for the holiday. They really capture the essence of the celebration.
What’s your favorite memory of hosting TWC employees for Groundhog Day?
Mary Ann: One of our favorite memories was hosting dinner on the final evening before the entire crew was to depart for their next assignment. The TWC family was at our large farm table with all the host families sharing stories and embracing our new friendships. It was a great to see this TWC family relax and enjoy some downtime after the rigorous schedule and production demands necessary to put together an enjoyable, yet accurate media event about Phil’s prognostication.
Host families and TWC employees having dinner at Mary Ann and Mark’s home
Emily: Hard to pick one: sled riding on our neighborhood hill, having a party one GH Day night & watching the Steelers win the Super Bowl together, taking the whole crew on an open tracked “tank” ride through the woods, attending other GHD events like the ball and banquet, or having the kids visiting the Weather Discovery Center throw snow balls at Jen C. In general, just enjoying their friendship and how much they appreciate our town and GH Day.
Peggy: The FUNNEST time we ever had with Jim at home was when he shared with us the story about being accosted by a passerby during a live broadcast. He simply kneed the guy in the gut, the guy dropped to the ground, and Jim kept on broadcasting, never missing a beat! We laughed til we cried! It was SO incredibly fun hearing the story first hand from Jim, and we knew he wasn’t even embellishing the story, because we had seen the news bit dozens of times and roared with laughter with each viewing. That happened after Jim had stayed with us already for Groundhog Day and we couldn’t WAIT to laugh about that one—and laugh we did!!!!
Jon: I loved the first year when we went out to venues around town. We would stand back and watch the crowd descend on Jim like chickens on a biscuit. He was great with the crowd and people were ecstatic to get to meet him.
What traditions do you and your family have for Groundhog Day? Do you have traditions with the crew that stays at your house?
Emily: Jen C getting new funny GH hats every year. We think she has the world’s largest collection! Mike J having to have Emily’s egg casserole (his favorite) for breakfast. Enjoying some things that they can only get here, like: special GH cookies, Punxsy Philsner beer & of course packing up the new GH souvenirs they get each year.
Peggy: We have a fairly new tradition of buying our guests silly Groundhog hats that they wear up to the Knob. We apologize to all our dental friends who visited for Groundhog Day in the past for YEARS, shortly after we moved here, and did not get hats. We owe them hats! And a weekend with Jim Cantore!!!!
Jon: Being so intimately involved with the holiday we don’t have other associated traditions. My father was an Inner Circle member for 49 years so other than all the duties required for the Groundhog Day, all we have developed is going to brunch after the Knob clears out. Well, there is a limited after-party that has become popular in recent years.
Can you describe what it’s like to experience Groundhog Day in your town?
Mary Ann: If you have the Punxsutawney gene, you recognize that Groundhog Day is about taking a break from the more serious things in life, establishing new relationships and friendships and sharing a bit of PUNXSUTAWNEY PRIDE… what better place for TWC staff to experience this than the Weather Capital of the World!
Emily: There are many consistent things; from fireworks to banquets & dances; viewings of Groundhog Day the movie, lots of GH clothes, signs or anything else you can put a GH on, things like the Weather Center & hayrides for kids and contests, concerts, etc for adults. Each year some new/different activities are added. It is very much about tradition. People from all over the world coming together to celebrate the seasons changing and just for a good reason to have a big party in the middle of winter. It is truly a piece of Americana in a small town atmosphere that helps all of us enjoy something that doesn’t need to be serious and where it’s OK to laugh at yourself. We have a groundhog, we talk to it and it predicts the weather………again, what’s there not to like about that!
Peggy: There are MANY traditions I enjoy tremendously every Groundhog Day. I enjoy attending the annual Groundhog Ball—a fun, semi-formal event held each year. One year, the crowd was treated to Jen Carfagno attending the Ball! And she can DANCE! Who knew! She could be on “Dancing with the Stars!” The second event I love is attending is Groundhog Day at Gobbler’s Knob, of course, where Jim and Jen start broadcasting live at about 3 am, bundled up in their Groundhog garb. Lastly, I LOVE the humor and camaraderie of the Annual Banquet—each year, Inner Circle Vice-President and emcee, Attorney Jeff Lundy, keeps us laughing all night long. The hilarious, entertaining guitar parodies performed by the talented Inner Circle members Ron Ploucha and John Griffiths makes this THE social event of the year in Punxsutawney—like the Grammys or the Oscars, but better!