Groundhog Day; a day where people seek advice from an animal for guidance on whether spring is right around the corner, or if we are in store for another six weeks of winter.
Groundhog Day wasn't so grounded when this tradition began back in the fifth century. Meteorologist Jeff Boyne with the La Crosse National Weather Service gives a brief history adding, "Celts believed that animals had supernatural powers and could predict what happened in the future, so they sort of watched to see how these animals would be over time. Then eventually, it moved on to the Romans and the Germans who looked at it. Then the Romans started calling it Hedgehog Day. Then eventually, Christianity started picking it up and calling it Candlemas Day."
In fact the first reference of Groundhog Day in the United States never came about until February 4th, 1841! Folklore has it that the groundhog was the medieval meteorologist when it came to future forecasts. Jeff says, "Groundhog Day, is simply the mid part of the meteorological winter, or astronomical winter I should say. It's basically the mid point, so we've already had six weeks of winter already, and we have six more weeks to end the winter."
The La Crosse National Weather Service has been tracking the accuracy of the forecasts since 2000, and let's just say, we should leave forecasting up to meteorologists. Boyne says, "There really aren't good statistics. You have a better chance of flipping a coin and forecasting what's going to happen the rest of winter."
Nonetheless, tradition is also carried on through movies like Groundhog Day with Bill Murray. It is often a popular rental at Family Video in La Crosse in the weeks leading up to the sensationalized holiday. Alec Nathan, an assistant manager for Family Video talks about the film, "We have a way to track how well movies get rented based on month or throughout the year. It's pretty clear to see that it's rented more in January leading up through February than it is other months of the year."
Punxsutawney Phil's prediction may sometimes be hogwash, but it is a fun way to enjoy the mid point of winter, nonetheless. Another fun fact about the weather predicting animal is that they are often referred to as a 'whistle-pig'. This is because when groundhogs are alarmed they emit a high pitched whistle that warns the rest of his or her colony that there is danger.