In anticipation of Groundhog Day, I traveled to Gobbler's Knob in Pennsylvania last week to talk to Punxsutawney Phil, the marmot who has been predicting winter's end every year since 1886.
With hundreds of reporters starting to gather outside, I managed to squeeze into Phil's burrow early to celebrate the event over a game of Groundhog Day Vocabulary Bingo and to ask him how he came to be the world's most famous weather forecaster.
Here's what the solitary and somewhat cranky rodent told me …
Q: So, Phil, how did Groundhog Day get started?
Phil: Well, the story handed down in my family goes like this.
Long ago, humans were very concerned with how long each winter would be. Being furless and unable to hibernate like us more sensible creatures, they worried that winter would outlast their food and firewood.
So these humans looked for ways to predict when winter would end. In Germany, they wisely looked to my friend the hedgehog for a clue.
Q: What was the clue?
Phil: February 2nd, Candlemas Day, was considered the traditional midpoint of winter—halfway between the shortest, darkest day of the year and the spring equinox. And folks came to believe that the weather on that particular day provided a sign of winter's end. They'd even sing this song:
If Candlemas be fair and bright,
Come, winter, have another flight;
If Candlemas brings cloud and rain,
Go, winter, and come not again.