Who Needs a Weatherman!

Exploring Kansas Outdoors

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Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania was settled and named by the Delaware Indians as a campsite halfway between the Allegheny and Susquehanna Rivers. When German settlers arrived in the 1700’s, they brought with them a tradition known as “Candlemas Day,” celebrated in Germany on Feb. 2nd, which happens to be the midpoint between Winter Solstice and Spring Equinox, (winter and spring.) Tradition held that if Feb. 2nd were sunny, the last half of winter would be nasty and cold, and vice-versa. In Germany, for whatever reason, hedgehogs were observed to see if a shadow was cast.

In Pennsylvania, given the absence of hedgehogs, groundhogs were selected to assume that role. An old German saying read: For as the sun shines on Candlemas Day, So far will the snow swirl until May; For as the snow swirls on Candlemas Day, So far will the sun shine until May. So, in layman’s terms, if sunny on Feb. 2nd, 6 more weeks of winter would follow.

Pennsylvania’s first official celebration of Groundhog Day was in 1886, when the legendary groundhog was named Punxsutawney Phil, and the first trip to Phil’s mythical home on Gobbler’s Knob, was made the following year. Today Phil is said to thrive on dog food and ice cream in his climate-controlled home at the Punxsutawney Library. Each Feb. 2nd, he is carried up to Gobbler’s Knob and placed in a heated burrow beneath a simulated tree stump before being pulled out at 7:25 a.m. to make his annual prediction, which, according to someone who obviously has an even more boring life than me, have been 39% correct. Common sense says there have been several Phil’s since 1886, but no one has fessed-up.

And as far as groundhog predictors go, Phil is not the only game in town. There are 6 other groundhogs on the continent that claim to share Phil’s gift. West Virginia has French Creek Freddie, Georgia has General Beauregard Lee, Michigan has Woody the Woodchuck, Ohio has Buckeye Chuck, Staten Island New York has Charles G. Hogg (Staten Island Chuck for short), Ontario, Canada has Wiarton Willie and Nova Scotia has Shubenacadie Sam (seriously, I couldn’t make this stuff up.)

But groundhogs don’t have a corner on this spring prognostication business, as other states around the country claim to have mammals that also share that gift. The same rules apply, the results are just given by different critters.
The Oregon Zoo has Fufu the hedgehog, and just like the German settlers who brought this legend to us, the zoo says these prickly prognosticators are the real deal. Fufu has only been in this role for a few years, but so far, she appears to have been correct about 53% of the time.

For eight years now, Groundhog Day in Brevard, North Carolina has been celebrated as “White Squirrel Day,” in honor of a couple white squirrel prognosticators. The first to hold the position was Pisgah Pete, and with Pete’s recent retirement, the star is now a white squirrel named Penelope Ella Elizabeth, Pisgah Penny for short. Again, it’s not divulged how Penny communicates her predictions, but this year she will also take a stab at picking the winner of the Super Bowl.

Relatively new to the spring-arrival-prediction scene is a chicken from the town of Katonah, New York. Since 2019, Clucksatawney Henrietta the chicken has attempted to predict spring’s arrival not with her shadow, but by when she lays an egg. Yes, you read that right; if Henrietta lays an egg during their annual Groundhog Day ceremony, there will be an early spring; if not, winter is here for 6 more weeks. There are no statistics concerning this style of prognostication, but when you’re tired of snow drifts, I guess you’ll cling to any hope available.

Residents of Eastford, Connecticut believe they have the most accurate weather-predicting groundhog alternative on the planet in the form of Scramble the duck. Scramble uses the shadow method, and Eastford claims that because she is more intelligent than a groundhog, her predictions have been 100% accurate.

Oregon residents pin their hope of an early spring on a beaver at the Oregon Zoo named Stumptown Fil, aka Filbert the beaver. Fil also applies the shadow method, but even the zoo says his predictions are suspect. Fil predicted an early spring in 2020, but a month later the zoo was forced to temporarily close due to ice and snow.

Also among the group of unusual Groundhog Day prognosticators are the burrowing owls of Florida and an armadillo in the town of Bee Cave, Texas, known as Bee Cave Bob. Bob and the owls are revered by residents of their respective states, but their careers have been less illustrious than the group listed above.

While I’m not quite ready to rely on a Texan armadillo, Scramble the duck from Connecticut or a white squirrel named Pisgah Penny to tell me when winter will end, I say let Henrietta lay an egg and let’s have breakfast. The past couple years have been one snow storm after another year-round, and I think we’ve all forgotten how to have fun…Continue to Explore Kansas Outdoors!

Steve can be contacted by email at [email protected]

 

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