Punxsutawney Phil

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Groundhog Day 2005 in Punxsutawney featuring Phil

Punxsutawney Phil Sowerby is a 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]

Prior to 1952, a groundhog named Pete was Punxsutawney's groundhog. Pete's downfall was caused by one William A. Swartworth, a rookie newsman in the Pittsburgh bureau of the Associated Press. 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, feeling 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; if not, spring is ready to burst forth.

Swartworth did his job, with one exception. He 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 then fired off this historic reply: "Pete died. Phil is his son." Swartworth chose the name Phil after the notorious con man from the 1950s dubbed Pittsburgh Phil. And so to this day Phil remains the world's most famous groundhog weather forecaster. [2]

Punxsutawney Phil fans say that there is only one Phil, and that all the other groundhogs 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 reality, the Inner Circle makes the determination as to whether or not Phil supposedly sees his shadow several days in advance of the ceremony and does not make its criteria public; this discontinuity was made obvious in the 2015 ceremonies, in which Phil “saw his shadow” and thus predicted six more weeks of winter despite overcast skies and a significant snowstorm bearing down on the town that day.[4]

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.[5][6]
  • 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 downhill race in honor of Punxsutawney Phil at Bear Creek Mountain Resort, Pennsylvania.
  • 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."[7][8] 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.[9] No such indictment was made against Ohio prediction groundhog Buckeye Chuck, who also failed to see his shadow.[10] 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."[11]
  • On February 11th 2015, the Merrimack Police Department in New Hampshire issued an arrest warrant for Punxsutawney Phil for having failed to disclose the extreme amounts of snow that would ensue after Groundhog Day.[12]

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."[13]
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"
2014–2015 "Long winter - like so late you would want your money back on this one"

Predictive accuracy[edit]

According to the Stormfax.com site,[14] as of 2015 Punxsutawney Phil has made 119 predictions, with an early spring (no shadow) predicted 17 times (14.3%). The site states (without evidence or corroborative references) that as of 2015 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. ^ Punxsutawney Phil, Poor Richard make Groundhog Day predictions. The Evening Sun (Hanover, PA). Retrieved February 2, 2015.
  5. ^ Pulling, Anne Frances (2001). Around Punxsutawney (Images of America). Arcadia Publishing. p. 128. ISBN 978-0-7385-0530-5. 
  6. ^ http://www.digitaljournal.com/article/342679 Stormfax Weather Almanac.
  7. ^ "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. 
  8. ^ "Prosecutor indicts groundhog for misrepresentation of early spring". WHIO-TV. March 21, 2013. Retrieved March 21, 2013. 
  9. ^ "Simpson says Friday sun before Sunday snow". WHIO-TV. March 21, 2013. Retrieved March 21, 2013. 
  10. ^ "Prediction groundhog faces 'death'". 3 News NZ. March 25, 2013. 
  11. ^ Mandak, Joe (March 25, 2013). "Pa. groundhog's handler taking blame for forecast". Seattle Times. Associated Press. Retrieved 26 December 2013. 
  12. ^ Police want to take Punxsutawney Phil into custody, USA Today, February 11, 2015. Retrieved February 26, 2015.
  13. ^ The Punxsutawney Spirit. February 2, 1942.  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  14. ^ 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