Punxsutawney Phil

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
Groundhog Day 2005 in Punxsutawney featuring Phil

Punxsutawney Phil is a legendary groundhog in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania. On February 2 (Groundhog Day) of each year, the town of Punxsutawney celebrates the legendary groundhog with a festive atmosphere of music and food. During the ceremony, which begins well before the winter sunrise, Phil emerges from his temporary home on Gobbler's Knob, located in a rural area about 2 miles (3.2 km) east of town. According to the tradition, if Phil sees his shadow and returns to his hole, he has predicted six more weeks of winter-like weather. If Phil does not see his shadow, he has predicted an "early spring."[1] The date of Phil's prognostication is known as Groundhog Day in the United States and Canada, and has been celebrated since 1887.

A select group, called the Inner Circle, takes care of Phil year-round and also plans the annual ceremony. Members of the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club's Inner Circle are recognizable by their top hats and tuxedos.

Punxsutawney Phil lore[edit]

Here is the true story of how Punxsutawney Phil, weather prognosticator supreme, came into being many years ago. Prior to 1952, a grizzled groundhog named Pete reigned as Punxsutawney's omniscient weather seer. Pete's downfall came at the the hands (typewriter) of one William A. Swartworth, a rookie newsman in the Pittsburgh bureau of the Associated Press.

(For the unknowing, the AP is the world's largest news agency. It's far-flung bureaus gather and transmit news to member newspapers, magazines, television and radio stations all over the world. Punxsutawney is a small, rural town in northwestern Pennsylvania, an area covered by the Pittsburgh bureau.)

As the newest staffer, Swartworth was assigned to write the bureau's annual Groundhog Day story on February 2, 1952. Veteran newsmen disdained the task, since it was simply an exercise of the imagination, the more fanciful the better, fabricated from three basic elements. Groundhog emerges from his burrow at sunrise. If he sees his shadow, it's six more weeks of wintry weather. No see shadow, spring is ready to burst forth.

Swartworth dutifully followed the script, with one exception. Acting on a whim, the brash young man changed the groundhog's name from Pete to Phil. Minutes after the story hit the news wires, the AP's Philadelphia bureau (control point for the state) sent a message challenging accuracy of the groundhog's name. Swartworth thought a moment, then fired off this historic reply: "Pete died. Phil is his son." No further queries. And so to this day Phil remains the foremost weather oracle of the groundhog world.

A final note. Why did Swartworth choose the name Phil? During the 1950s there lived a notorious con man dubbed Pittsburgh Phil. After all, isn't the idea of groundhogs predicting the weather one big snow job? Sure -- but it's also great fun. Long live Punxsutawney Phil.[2]

Punxsutawney Phil fans say that there is only one Phil, and that all the other groundhog weathermen are impostors. It is claimed that Pete/Phil has made weather prognostications since 1887, making the Punxsutawney groundhog a legendary rather than factual figure, since groundhogs only live up to six years.[3] It is publicly unknown how many groundhogs have actively played Phil.

According to the Groundhog Club, Phil, after making the prediction, speaks to the Club President in "Groundhogese", which only the current president can understand, and then his prediction is translated for the entire world.

The Groundhog Day celebration is rooted in a Celtic tradition that says if a hibernating animal casts a shadow on February 2, the Pagan holiday of Imbolc, winter will last another six weeks. If no shadow was seen, legend says spring would come early.

The ties in Pennsylvania may actually come from Germans, when clear skies on Candlemas Day, February 2, were said to herald cold weather ahead. In Germany, the tradition morphed into a myth that if the sun came out on Candlemas, a hedgehog would cast its shadow, predicting snow all the way into May. When German immigrants settled in Pennsylvania, they transferred the tradition onto local fauna, replacing hedgehogs with groundhogs.

In media and popular culture[edit]

Miniature replica at MRRV, Carnegie Science Center, Pittsburgh
  • Phil and the town of Punxsutawney were portrayed in the 1993 philosophical comedy film Groundhog Day. The actual town in the film is Woodstock, Illinois.
  • In 1995, Phil flew to Chicago for a guest appearance on The Oprah Winfrey Show, which aired on Groundhog Day, February 2, 1995.[4][5]
  • Phil was the main attraction in "Groundhog Day", the April 10, 2005 episode of the MTV series Viva La Bam. In the episode, street skater Bam Margera holds a race in honor of Punxsutawney Phil.
  • In March 2013, a Butler County, Ohio prosecutor named Michael Gmoser made international headlines after issuing an indictment against the groundhog by e-mail calling for the death penalty for "misrepresentation of early spring, an Unclassified Felony, and against the peace and dignity of the State Of Ohio."[6][7] On that day, temperatures within the region approached a record low for the high temperature of the day, with snow having fallen, and temperatures predicted to remain below seasonal averages for at least the next several days.[8] No such indictment was made against Ohio prediction groundhog Buckeye Chuck, who also failed to see his shadow.[9] The prosecutor later stated that he would consider a pardon because Phil's handler (Bill Deeley, president of the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club's Inner Circle ) was taking the blame for the mistake, "because he failed to correctly interpret Phil's 'groundhog-ese'." Deeley noted that the indictment had "generated more publicity than a $10,000 ad campaign."[10]

Past predictions[edit]

Year Prediction
1887–1888 "Long winter"
1889 No record
1890 "Early spring"
1891–1897 No record
1898 "Long winter"
1899 No record
1900–1901 "Long winter"
1902 "Early spring"
1903–1933 "Long winter"
1934 "Early spring"
1935–1941 "Long winter"
1942 "War clouds have blacked out parts of the shadow."[11]
1943 No appearance (World War II)
1944–1949 "Long winter"
1950 "Early spring"
1951–1969 "Long winter"
1970 "Early spring"
1971–1974 "Long winter"
1975 "Early spring"
1976–1982 "Long winter"
1983 "Early spring"
1984–1985 "Long winter"
1986 "Early spring"
1987 "Long winter"
1988 "Early spring"
1989 "Long winter"
1990 "Early spring"
1991–1994 "Long winter"
1995 "Early spring"
1996 "Long winter"
1997 "Early spring"
1998 "Long winter"
1999 "Early spring"
2000–2006 "Long winter"
2007 "Early spring"
2008–2010 "Long winter"
2011 "Early spring"
2012 "Long winter"
2013 "Early spring"
2014 "Long winter"
2015 TBA

Predictive accuracy[edit]

According to the Stormfax.com site,[12] as of 2014 Punxsutawney Phil has made 118 predictions, with an early spring (no shadow) predicted 17 times (14%). The site states (without evidence or corroborative references) that as of 2014 the predictions have proved correct 39% of the time. This is significantly worse than chance (p = 0.008), and - if the accuracy figure is correct - suggests the traditional interpretation of Punxsutawney Phil's predictions should be reversed.


  1. ^ "Groundhog.org FAQ". Groundhog.org. Retrieved 2009-02-02. 
  2. ^ William A. Swartworth, former Pittsburgh Bureau Associated Press newsman
  3. ^ Marmota monax (Linnaeus); Woodchuck. Pick4.pick.uga.edu. Retrieved on 2014-06-10.
  4. ^ Pulling, Anne Frances (2001). Around Punxsutawney (Images of America). Arcadia Publishing. p. 128. ISBN 978-0-7385-0530-5. 
  5. ^ http://www.digitaljournal.com/article/342679 Stormfax Weather Almanac.
  6. ^ "Punxsutawny Phil sentenced to DEATH: Ohio court indicts famous groundhog with misrepresentation of Spring after cold weather continues". Daily Mail. March 21, 2013. Retrieved March 21, 2013. 
  7. ^ "Prosecutor indicts groundhog for misrepresentation of early spring". WHIO-TV. March 21, 2013. Retrieved March 21, 2013. 
  8. ^ "Simpson says Friday sun before Sunday snow". WHIO-TV. March 21, 2013. Retrieved March 21, 2013. 
  9. ^ "Prediction groundhog faces 'death'". 3 News NZ. March 25, 2013. 
  10. ^ Mandak, Joe (March 25, 2013). "Pa. groundhog's handler taking blame for forecast". Seattle Times. Associated Press. Retrieved 26 December 2013. 
  11. ^ The Punxsutawney Spirit. February 2, 1942. 
  12. ^ Stormfax.com Groundhog Day archive

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 40°56′10″N 78°57′14″W / 40.93611°N 78.95389°W / 40.93611; -78.95389