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Groundhog Day Statistics

Updated on June 19, 2013
Groundhog
Groundhog | Source

How accurate is Punxsutawney Phil at predicting the weather?

It's an odd little tradition, when you think about it: every year, on February 2, the world holds its breath and waits for news about a small rodent in Pennsylvania named Punxsutawney Phil. In Canada they wait for a little guy in Wiarton, named Wiarton Willie. The question both places is the same. Will these little animals see their shadows? If they do, does that mean the winter is about to end, or will it go on for six more weeks?

How on earth would they know? Who is this Punxsutawney Phil? What kind of weathercasting resume does Wiarton Willie really have? Why do we believe them? How often are they right? Do they agree with each other? And even if they are right, how are they able to communicate this information to humans? Who came up with this idea, anyway?

The Life and Times of Phil and Willie

Punxsutawney Phil and Wharton Willie are groundhogs. Other informal names for this particular species include woodchuck, whistle-pig, and land-beaver. Wild groundhogs live to be about six years old, at least partly because most predators, including wolves, coyotes and hawks, think of them as dinner. They hibernate during the winter.

The good people of Punxsutawney have been calling upon Phil to come out to find his shadow in Gobbler's Knob since 1887. That's a pretty good trick for an animal that only lives to be ten years old, even in captivity. Willie is a relative newcomer to this business; he's only been at it since 1955.

So - what have these animals been predicting, and how often have they been right? By researching the links listed below, we can draw up a statistical table of the groundhogs' predictions. Here's what they've had to say for the past twenty years.

The Predictions of Phil and Willie

Year
Phil
Willie
1992
Shadow
No shadow
1993
Shadow
Shadow
1994
Shadow
Shadow
1995
No shadow
Shadow
1996
Shadow
No shadow
1997
No shadow
No shadow
1998
Shadow
No shadow
1999
No shadow
No shadow
2000
Shadow
Shadow
2001
Shadow
No shadow
2002
Shadow
No shadow
2003
Shadow
No shadow
2004
Shadow
Shadow
2005
Shadow
No shadow
2006
Shadow
No shadow
2007
No shadow
No shadow
2008
Shadow
No shadow
2009
Shadow
Shadow
2010
Shadow
Shadow
2011
No shadow
No shadow
2012
Shadow
No shadow
show route and directions
A markerWiarton, Canada -
Wiarton, ON, Canada
get directions

B markerPunxsutawney, Pennsylvania -
Punxsutawney, PA, USA
get directions

According to this table, the two groundhogs have disagreed with each other eleven times in twenty years. So, what are we to make of that? Is it because of the geographic distance from each other? After all, South Bruce Peninsula and Punxsutawney are 369 miles away from each other. Is this whole groundhog mythology supposed to be a global prognostication, or just a local guess? Of course, the good people of Punxsutawney will also argue that Willie's predictions don't count. The groundhogs disagree because Punxsutawney Phil is the only true weather guessing groundhog. Willie and all the other groundhogs in various towns across North America are imposters.

Overall, Phil has seen his shadow 100 times. He has not seen his shadow 16 times, and nine times folks just forgot to write down the results.

If the sun is out, Phil predicts six more weeks of winter.
If the sun is out, Phil predicts six more weeks of winter. | Source

The History of Groundhog Day

OK, so Phil and Willie do not appear to be seasoned professional weathermen; since they can't even agree with each other on the verdict more than half the time, we can assume that their accuracy will never been any better than what you would get with the flip of a coin. But how did these two little rodents even get their jobs?

Groundhog Day in the United States was brought over from Europe by German settlers. It grows out of a religious celebration called Candlemas, which was revered as the day baby Jesus was presented at the Temple. Superstitious people began to believe that the weather on the day of Candlemas, which was February 2, would be the opposite of what was to come for the following six weeks. The settlers believed that hibernating animals would come out on Candlemas, look for their shadows, and decide whether or not to go back to sleep again - and those animals did not have to be groundhogs. Before we had Phil and Willie, German settlers believed that the weather was predicted by otters and badgers.

Groundhog Day became an official observance in Pennsylvania in 1886 when a Punxutawney newspaper issued a proclamation declaring that the groundhog had not seen his shadow. In Wiarton, the observance began almost as a misunderstanding. A local man decided to have a Groundhog Day party for some of his friends and the local media showed up, mistaking the party for a more elaborate and official celebration.

The Accuracy of Groundhog Day Predictions

So... how often is Punxsutawney Phil actually correct? According to Stormfax.com, Phil has only been right 39% of the time. Accuweather.com is a little more generous; they believe he's been right 80% of the time*. So... what can we conclude, based on all this information?

Nothing much, apparently, except this: If you happen to be in Punxsutawney on February 2, drop by Gobbler's Knob, because there's going to be a fun little party featuring a rodent. Maybe he will see his shadow; maybe he won't. Don't forget your winter coat, just in case.

*Source: The Washington Post

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    • Glimmer Twin Fan profile image

      Glimmer Twin Fan 4 years ago

      Interesting recappers - We only live about 1 1/2 hours from Punxatawney and have driven through. Groundhogs are everywhere and not living breathing ones. A number of businesses have them as their logo. We've never been on groundhog day because it draws an unbelievably large crowd. I have never heard of Wharton Willie before.

    • Rosie writes profile image

      Rosie writes 4 years ago from Virginia

      Very entertaining hub! I really enjoyed your humor throughout. Voted up and interesting.

    • profile image

      Single Shot 4 years ago

      I love your hub! see my point of view for the ground hog day is.. what if it is sunny and then suddenly clouds go over the sun..does that mean just because the groundhog(s) didn't see their shadow..we're doomed for a long winter...and what if they see their shadow..but it becomes spring instead? ...I mean seriously...no offense to anyone and especially not to you recappers delight.. there is no real point in the whole rely on the groundhog.. ha ha just wait it all out and see what nature has in store for us herself..instead of a ground hog? make sense...anyone? :)

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