STURTEVANT, WI — Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, is a long drive from Sturtevant, and that alone reduces the odds of jumping in the car and traveling there to see what the city’s famous marmot predicts about the end of winter on Groundhog Day on Tuesday.
According to the Groundhog Day legend, winter will hang on another six weeks if the rodent sees his shadow, and spring will be just around the corner if he doesn’t.
This unscientific ritual takes place every year in Punxsutawney, and it will again in 2021 — but without the crush of thousands of reporters and visitors who flock to Gobbler’s Knob, a small clearing at the top of a wooded hill a couple of miles outside of the western Pennsylvania town.
The pandemic hasn’t stolen this silly late-winter ritual, but it will move online because “the potential COVID risks to overcome are too great,” according to the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club website. That means you can watch Punxsutawney Phil’s prognostication from the comfort of your home here in Sturtevant.
The pampered groundhog will go outside with his “Inner Circle” to do his bit. In place of a crowd, Phil will be surrounded by cutouts of folks who would like to be there. Just snap a photo — preferably wearing groundhog gear, according to the website — and email it to email@example.com.
You may be asking how what is seen by a groundhog in Pennsylvania has to do with the end of winter in our neck of the woods. Fair enough. Right now, the National Weather Service forecast calls for sunny skies over Sturtevant on Groundhog Day.
Enterprising Punxsutawney residents organized the first Groundhog Day celebration in 1887 around a tradition that early 19th century settlers brought to Pennsylvania from Germany.
Clymer Freas, the editor of the The Punxsutawney Spirit newspaper, came up with the idea in 1886 and convinced the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club, a group of businessmen and groundhog hunters, that it was a solid one. They traded groundhogs for hedgehogs, the marmot used in the German celebration, but the idea behind the observance remains unchanged: If the varmint sees its shadow, more winter is in sight; if not, spring is near.
The earliest of Feb. 2 celebrations had nothing to do with groundhogs or hedgehogs. Today’s lighthearted festivals around marmots borrow heavily from the ancient European Christian celebration known as Candlemas Day, “commemorating the occasion when the Virgin Mary, in obedience to Jewish law, went to the Temple in Jerusalem both to be purified 40 days after the birth of her son, Jesus, and to present him to God as her firstborn (Luke 2:22–38),” according to Encyclopedia Britannica.
According to tradition, religious leaders blessed candles used during the winter and passed them out on Feb. 2, the midpoint between the winter solstice and spring equinox. If the candles were distributed under clear, sunny skies, the remainder of winter would be a rough ride. But if the day was gray and cloudy, spring was on the way.
Punxsutawney Phil was introduced at the inaugural U.S. Groundhog Day in 1887, and a groundhog has looked for its shadow every year under that name, sealing the “holiday” in our America’s cultural heritage. A groundhog was pulled from the ground that first year and saw its shadow on Gobbler’s Knob. The prediction was right for a few regions of Pennsylvania, but not the entire state.
The groundhog has gotten it wrong as often as right in the last 10 years, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. But give the varmint a break, NOAA says, noting on a webpage for all things Groundhog Day: “Predicting the arrival of spring for an entire country, especially one with such varied regional climates as the United States, isn’t easy!”
If you want a bit more accuracy, here’s what AccuWeather says the arrival of spring weather in Wisconsin:
A delayed start to spring weather is shaping up around the Great Lakes and the Northeast.
A big winter storm could close out January and linger into the start of February, but overall, the first half of the month may be mild across much of the East. That won't be the theme for the entire month as a new, nationwide weather pattern is expected to unfold toward the latter part of February.
"Another period of colder weather and more snow can return to the northern tier of the nation later in February and March," AccuWeather Lead Long-Range Meteorologist Paul Pastelok explained.
Weather experts said that Wisconsin may be piling the snow on right through at least March and even into early April before it finally starts to feel like spring.