Punxsutawney Phil Predicts an Early Spring

Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley
Feb. 2 2013 12:47 PM

Punxsutawney Phil, World’s Most Famous Groundhog, Predicts an Early Spring

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Punxsutawney Phil didn't see his shadow this year

Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images

Early Saturday morning, amid frigid temperatures and overcast skies, Punxsutawney Phil emerged from his burrow and supposedly didn’t see his shadow, meaning that an early spring is right around the corner, reports the Associated Press. According to legend, if the rodent sees his shadow on Feb. 2 then winter will last six more weeks, but if he doesn’t then spring will come early. (As Timothy Noah explained in Slate in 2004, the groundhog doesn’t actually see his shadow—the key is whether it casts a shadow others can see.)

That the groundhog didn’t see his shadow is notable in and of itself though, considering that since 1887, Phil has seen his shadow 100 times, and didn’t see his shadow 17 times, according to Stormfax. It’s hardly surprising that Phil, known as the “seer of seers” and “sage of sages,” regularly predicts a longer winter. It’s the safe bet. But that doesn't mean it's always right. He predicted six more weeks of winter last year but the lower 48 states experienced the fourth warmest winter on record.

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How accurate is Phil? Depends on who you ask. The official Groundhog Day website claims Phil is right “100 percent of the time, of course!” But the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration says the data shows “no predictive skill for the groundhog during the most recent years.” Stormfax says that Phil’s predictions have been right 39 percent of the time, but AccuWeather says the groundhog’s penchant for the safe bet means he has “a tendency to get it right” and his accuracy is at “about 80 percent.”

Although Phil may be the most famous, he’s hardly alone. “Other prognosticating rodents are popping up to claim a piece of the action,” notes the NOAA. There’s General Beauregard Lee from Atlanta, Sir Walter Wally from Raleigh, and Jimmy from Wisconsin, among others.

Watch video of this year's ceremony after the jump:

Daniel Politi has been contributing to Slate since 2004 and wrote the "Today's Papers" column from 2006 to 2009. You can follow him on Twitter @dpoliti.

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