How Accurate Are the Groundhog Day Weather Predictions?

Year after year, the folks tending the groundhogs at Gobbler’s Knob in Pennsylvannia trot out one of their rodents, dub him "Punxsutawney Phil," and then determine whether America will have six more weeks of winter, or whether we’ll all enjoy an early spring. The basis for this quaint media event is whether the groundhog sees his shadow on February 2nd. But there hasn't been much accuracy involved in this odd custom. "Punxsutawney Phil" has been making his weather predictions since 1887, and of the 108 decisions preserved on record, he has only been right 39 percent of the time, according to the Stormfax Weather Almanac.

A shadow of a doubt:

  • “If Punxsutawney Phil is right 39 percent of the time, that’s much, much worse than a climatological prediction,” says Tim Roche, a meteorologist at Weather Underground. “Even if you flip a coin, you’ll still be right close to half of the time.”

  • Perhaps we're being too hard on Phil. Long-range forecasts by experienced meteorologists are frequently wrong,The Washington Post reports. And, for certain parts of the country, Phil's forecasts have been somewhat more accurate.

  • Groundhog Day dates back to the 1700s and a German tradition called Candlemas Day, the mid-point between the Winter Solstice and the Spring Equinox. The story about groundhogs and their shadows first appeared in a diary entry in Pennsylvania in 1841.

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