How Accurate Is Groundhog Day, Anyway?

by Kiersten Hickman
Jeff Swensen/Getty Images News/Getty Images

On the early morning of Feb. 2, 2017, Punxsuntawney Phil — the famous groundhog located in Punxsuntawney, Pennsylvania — evidently saw his little shadow, predicting six more weeks of winter. The tradition of Groundhog Day is a beloved one, but here’s the thing…is Groundhog Day accurate? I mean, is there really going to be six more weeks of winter? Why do we rely on a rodent for our weather predictions?

Let’s take it back to 1887 where the first Groundhog Day was celebrated at Gobbler’s Knob in Puxsuntawney. The tradition of the groundhog was actually brought over from a tradition celebrated by the Germans, and before that an ancient Christian tradition. It originates from a day called Candlemas, where the clergy would actually hand out candles to the community to last them through winter. The candles distributed would actually determine how long winter would be. Later the Germans expanded on this tradition by using an animal to determine how long the winter would actually be. And, to make things even more interesting, the animal chosen at the time wasn’t a groundhog; it was actually a hedgehog.

The German settlers in Pennsylvania kept the tradition going, but since there were dozens of groundhogs in around their settlement, it was easier to use a groundhog instead of a hedgehog.

Okay so now we established the history, why in the world do we use an animal still to predict the weather for the next six weeks? Don’t we have weather apps for that now? Also, groundhogs actually go into hibernation in late fall and are not intended to come out of hibernation for good until March. Why do we celebrate this tradition in early February?

Well that’s because during this month, male groundhogs will come out of hibernation to look for mate. Different from predicting the weather, huh?

Although dozens of meteorologists could have made the same prediction, there’s something whimsical about the tradition of Puxsuntawney Phil’s weather prediction — which is celebrated with a three day festival in this little town of Pennsylvania. Sure there are numerous other groundhogs that are used to make the same predication, but the only trusted groundhog (for the last 130 years, I guess) has been Puxsuntawney Phil.

So is Groundhog Day accurate? Not really. I mean sure the groundhog could come out of hibernation looking for a mate, and be tricked in perhaps thinking it’s March and time to fully be out of hibernation. But according to the National Climatic Data Center, the groundhog is only accurate about 39 percent of the time. Needless to say, the hope of having an early spring still rings in the air – but according to scientists (and Phil, if you still trust him), don’t get your hopes up too much…