Punxsutawney Phil, the famous US groundhog, emerged from his burrow on Sunday and saw his shadow. This unwelcome sight came to the disappointment of those hoping for an early spring.
Legend has it that if the furry, rotund rodent sees his shadow on February 2, winter will last another month and a half. If he doesn’t see it, spring will come early.
In reality, Phil’s prediction is decided beforehand by a group called the Inner Circle, whose members don top hats and tuxedos for the annual Groundhog Day ceremony on Gobbler’s knob, the tiny hill about 100km northeast of Pittsburgh.
The crowd erupted from cheers to boos as the prediction was announced. This year’s celebration, which fell on Super Bowl Sunday, marks a winter that has brought extreme cold to stretches of the country wholly unaccustomed to it, as well as a snow and ice storm that paralysed Atlanta and other southern cities.
Phil is in fact the most famous of a small group of groundhogs said to forecast the weather, including Staten Island Chuck in New York and General Beauregards Lee in Atlanta. It should be noted that the National Climate Data Centre has found that these groundhogs have “no predictive skills” indeed, Phil usually gets it wrong more often than not.
Last week’s storm was the worst since the great ice storm of February 1994 which killed nine people and caused around 4.7 billion dollars of damage. Thankfully this latest one did not compare to that, although thousands of flights were cancelled at the world’s busiest airport (in terms of passenger numbers) in Atlanta. There was also the inevitable chaos on the roads and train travel was brought to a standstill.
After a very brief respite, the bitterly cold weather is returning to the northeast as yet another winter storm moves in from the Plains. Another round of heavy snow is likely to cause travel disruption over the next few days.