Will spring come early? Only the groundhog knows
The following column originally ran in The Post Feb. 1, 2006:
One of our country's most bizarre rituals takes place this Saturday, Feb. 2. This week, the nation's attention and hopes for spring hang on whether an oversized, fuzzy rodent sees its shadow.
Yes, Groundhog Day is here again, and before images of Bill Murray repeating a day over and over fill your head, we need to get back to the true reason for the holiday: weather prediction.
Since Feb. 2, 1887, the groundhog named Punxsutawney Phil has been released from his burrow on Gobbler's Knob in a Sandy-size town in western Pennsylvania, looking for his shadow. Once he gets out in the open, he tells his handlers whether or not he saw his shadow, using a super-secret rodent language called 'Groundhogese' (I didn't make this up - it's on the groundhog's official Web site).
In the years following the release of the popular 1993 movie 'Groundhog Day,' record crowds numbering as high as 30,000 have visited Punxsutawney for the big day.
The implications of Phil's shadow, apparently, are huge. If he sees it, spring's not coming for six more weeks. If there's no shadow, spring has sprung. Though Punxsutawney is more than 2,600 miles away from the Sandy area, Phil's prediction is probably important to a lot of us in the Northwest, sick of the seemingly endless winter gloom.
Speaking with the Sandy Post, Groundhog Club Past President Bud Dunkel - a man who has known and handled Phil for nearly 40 years - said that the groundhog's predictions are not just for Pennsylvania, the Northeast or even for the United States.
'It's worldwide,' Dunkel said. He said the power of Phil's universal accuracy and relevance to the Northern Hemisphere was demonstrated during World War II.
From 1942 to 1945, 'The U.S. government asked us to stop using Phil as a forecast for the weather because it might lend aid and comfort to the enemy,' Dunkel said. 'They would know what the weather's going to be in Europe and know how to plan operations. We didn't make a forecast for those years. How's that for proof?'
Well, according to Phil's Web site again, nobody knows what the groundhog will forecast until he hops out into view Feb. 2, but with the help of Oregon Climatologist George H. Taylor, we might be able to predict what old Phil's going to say.
In the next six weeks, Taylor told The Post that weather in the Portland area is likely going to stay wet. 'I think overall,' he said, 'these wet conditions are going to stick around.' He said we're in for a wet winter and dry spring - the opposite of how things went last year.
'We almost always get a warm-up and dry-out sometime in February,' Taylor added. 'It's sort of like a first breath of spring, but even if it comes, the rains will come back.'
Our wet winter conditions, he said, likely will linger through February and into March.
So, if Phil is never wrong, as locals assert, it appears that he should see his shadow - like he has 90 percent of the time since 1887. Taylor thinks Phil will see his shadow. I guess having spring start in February would be a weird thing, especially in Oregon. Do whatever you want, Phil… just keep it real.
So happy Groundhog Day, everyone! If you want to learn more about Phil and his posse, visit his official Web site at www.groundhog.org.