Groundhog Predicts an Early Spring

Nolan with the legendary “Punxsutawney Phil” and his handler, John Griffiths

It’s Groundhog Day. The February 2 tradition is an important one for the people of Punxsutawney (PUNKS-uh-TAW-nee), Pennsylvania.

Every year, a groundhog named “Punxsutawney Phil” emerges from his burrow to make an important prediction: Will winter last another six weeks, or is an early spring on the horizon?

According to legend, if Phil sees his shadow, there will be six more weeks of winter. If not, spring will come early.



I recently visited Gobbler’s Knob, a small, hilltop clearing just outside of Punxsutawney, to meet with Phil and his handler, John Griffiths. Griffiths is a long-time member of the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club, which organizes the annual festivities.

“The custom originated in Germany, where they believed that hedgehogs could predict the weather,” Griffiths said. “When the German settlers came to Pennsylvania, they wanted to bring their traditions with them.” Hedgehogs were scarce, so the settlers used the next best thing—a groundhog.

Griffiths explained that the first Groundhog Day celebration took place in 1887, when a newspaper editor introduced a meteorologist groundhog to the world.



Punxsutawney Phil’s prediction is communicated to the president of the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club. Phil whistles and chatters, speaking in Groundhogese. The club’s president holds a mystical hardwood cane to help interpret Phil’s language.

“Phil is always right with his prediction, but the president has misinterpreted it on occasion,” Griffiths said, smiling.

According to legend, the groundhog is at least 134 years old and drinks a magic groundhog punch to stay young. When Phil is not predicting the weather, he stays with his wife Phyllis, in a cozy, climate-controlled burrow at the public library. 



Groundhog Day, the 1993 movie starring Bill Murray, popularized the celebration in Pennsylvania, drawing large crowds after its release. 

“We now get up to 30,000 visitors a year, especially if Groundhog Day falls on a weekend, as it does this year,” Griffiths noted. Millions of more people watch on television around the world.

This year, Phil’s fans gathered at Gobbler's Knob to hear his prediction. The groundhog came out of his burrow but did not see his shadow. That means an early spring.

Is Phil right? No one knows for sure. “The only thing we take seriously here at the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club,” Griffiths said, “is having fun.”

Photo courtesy of the author