It’s not Groundhog Day yet, but some furry forecasters are already weighing in on the weather forecasts.
WKBW reports that Buffalo Bert saw his shadow on Saturday, January 28, which means six more weeks of winter — at least for western New York. The marmot, who lives at Hawk Creek Wildlife Center in East Aurora, made his prediction at the Flying Bison Brewing Company’s 10th annual Buffalo Groundhog Day celebration, an event that also raises money for native animals.
Of course, Bert isn’t quite as well known as his famous cousin, Punxsutawney Phil.
Phil will make his own prediction for early spring or more winter on February 2nd, Groundhog Day, at Gobbler’s Knob in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania. The ‘Seer of Seers’ saw his shadow at last year’s event in the ‘Weather Capital of the World’ and predicted six more weeks of winter.
According to an old German legend, when a marmot sees its shadow on February 2nd, winter will last another six weeks. If not, spring will come earlier. (The pseudo-holiday originally began as Badger Day in European folklore, but German immigrants in Pennsylvania couldn’t find badgers, so they started using marmots.)
The first day of spring is technically March 20, as the season officially begins with the vernal equinox.
And according to The Associated Press, the tiny meteorologist’s weather forecast is actually decided before he “sees” his shadow on Groundhog Day. Records show that Punxsutawney Phil has called for a prolonged winter more than 100 times since 1887 and a little over a dozen times for spring.
But we love the tradition, made even more popular by the 1993 film Groundhog Day, starring Bill Murray as grouchy weatherman Phil Connors.
“This is pathetic. A thousand people freezing their butts off waiting to worship a rat. What hype,” Murray said in the film.
Directed by the late Harold Ramis and starring Andie MacDowell, the film saw Murray’s character repeat the same day – February 2, Groundhog Day – over and over again in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, a small town 65 miles outside of Pittsburgh, experienced. Murray relived his groundhog adventure in a 2020 Super Bowl commercial with co-star Stephen Tobolowsky as obnoxious insurance salesman Ned Ryerson.
Other states have their own rodent predictors, such as Groundhog in Georgia, General Beauregard Lee, Buckeye Chuck in Ohio, Milltown Mel in New Jersey, and Staten Island Chuck in New York. They don’t always agree with their predictions, although both Buffalo Bert and Punxsy Phil saw their shadows last year.
More winter would be bad news for Buffalo, which has already seen nearly 10 feet of snow this season. According to GoldenSnowball.com, the city’s total snowfall at this point in the year is 20 inches above average and at least 80 inches ahead of other New York state cities such as Binghamton (35.3 inches of snow), Syracuse (27.7), Albany (23 .2) and Rochester (17.0).
Punxsutawney Phil does not have a strong track record of forecasting the weather in Syracuse and CNY. From 2004 to 2013 there was no correlation between his forecasts and actual weather: in the five warmest periods after February 2 at this stretch, Phil called for a late spring; In the coldest six-week stretch in 2007, it promised an early spring.
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NOAA also says there is no national correlation between Phil’s shadow sightings and actual weather in February and March. Statistics since 1998 show that the groundhog’s shadow is as reliable as tossing a coin.
And the holiday is not without controversy either. Animal rights group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) has called on the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club to retire Punxsutawney Phil and replace him with a robot — an animatronic marmot with an artificial intelligence (AI) system that could more accurately predict the weather ahead.