If you’ve ever thought to yourself, “Groundhog Day is a weird holiday”, then you’re definitely not alone. Personally, I’ve never understood why we rely on an animal’s shadow to predict our weather. Wouldn’t it be the same if any human saw their shadow? What’s so special about a groundhog? Why is this holiday even a thing? At The Weather Channel, Groundhog Day is a big deal. Crews are sent out and meteorologists report live from the field about various groundhog predictions. When I first began my Groundhog Day research endeavor, I didn’t expect to find anything interesting. However, as I learned more and more about Groundhog Day, the bizarre and conspiracy-riddled holiday revealed its darkest secrets. From murder and shady schemes to less-than-impressive statistics, here are the most unexpected, strange, and fascinating facts about Groundhog Day.
The first Groundhog Day was on February 2, 1887 at Gobbler’s Knob in Punxsutawney, PA. However, the odd tradition of using an animal to predict weather actually began in Germany long before then. Christians used to rely on candles to predict how long the winter would be, a tradition they called Candlemas, but the Germans decided to put a strange spin on it and rely on a hedgehog’s shadow instead. Seems….. logical. When the Germans settled in America, the hedgehog population was unfortunately not booming, so they shifted their meteorological trust to an animal abundant in the area at the time: the groundhog.
Everyone knows that if a groundhog sees its shadow on Groundhog Day, there will be six more weeks of winter, and that if there is no shadow, there will be an early spring. But did you know that the first prognosticating groundhog was cooked and eaten as a meal after his first prediction? I’m guessing you didn’t. If you’re a fan of Punxsutawney Phil, I bet your jaw is on the floor right now. If you have no idea who Punxsutawney Phil is, don’t worry, I was in the same boat about 2 weeks ago, so I can fill you in on the basics.
Punxsutawney Phil is the official prognosticating groundhog of Pennsylvania (and let’s face it, the entire planet). He’s America’s groundhog sweetheart, like the Taylor Swift of groundhogs, if you will. An elite group called the Inner Circle cares for Phil year-round and claims there has only ever been one Punxsutawney Phil. According to the group, every summer at the Groundhog Picnic, Phil drinks “groundhog punch” which extends his lifespan 7 more years. The Inner Circle always dons top hats wherever they escort Phil, and if I had to guess, they’re hiding the secret recipe to that groundhog punch in there…
Now, I know what you’re thinking: On Groundhog Day does Punxsutawney Phil speak Groundhogese to the President of the Inner Circle, who then translates Phil’s forecast for the world to hear? Yes, my friend. That’s exactly what happens.
Although Punxsutawney Phil is a true legend, there are other groundhogs out there trying to scratch their way to the spotlight. My personal favorite is Staten Island Chuck. He’s tough and doesn’t take any flak from anyone, including New York’s finest mayors. He once bit Mayor Michael Bloomberg in 2009 during Groundhog Day, probably because the pressure of his rising fame was too much to handle. The most controversial story around Chuck, formally known as Charles G. Hogg, occurred in 2014. It was a dark day for groundhogs everywhere, and it was all thanks to Mayor Bill de Blasio. Staten Island Chuck was being held by the mayor, who was just having fun with his furry pal, when BAM! The mayor dropped Chuck and sent him hurtling toward the ground from 6 feet above. Chuck’s handlers rushed to check on him and everything appeared to be fine, much to de Blasio’s relief. However, one week after the infamous drop, Chuck died from internal injuries. Was there a public outcry? No. This was because the zoo kept it a secret for months before the truth about Chuck’s death came out. Something else they kept a secret? The groundhog held by de Blasio WAS NOT CHUCK. It was Chuck’s granddaughter, Charlotte. Why would they switch out the beloved Staten Island Chuck with his kin of lesser value and fame? To this day, it remains unexplained.
Now that you’re caught up on the dark history of Groundhog Day, it’s time to get to the stats. Unfortunately for groundhogs like Phil and Chuck, it was reported by the National Climatic Data Center that groundhogs have less than 40% success rates with their predictions. That’s probably not too surprising, but the Yellow River Game Ranch in Lilburn, GA claims their resident meteorological groundhog named General Beauregard Lee has an accuracy rate of 94%. If that statistic is true, then I think we should all be signing a petition for General Beauregard Lee to be offered a full-time position here at The Weather Channel.
Will it be a long winter or a short winter? Will Punxsutawney Phil, Staten Island Chuck, and General Beauregard Lee be correct this year? Will the secret recipe for groundhog punch ever be revealed? No promises on that last one, but tune into AMHQ at 7 AM on February 2nd to see the Groundhog Day results!