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Punxsutawney Phil: 6 more weeks of winter

Punxsutawney Phil saw his shadow on Thursday, which according to tradition means six more weeks of winter.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Punxsutawney Phil saw his shadow, but it was hard to find a complainer in the crowd at Gobbler’s Knob, where the morning temperature was well above freezing and the Groundhog Day high was expected to hit 48 degrees.

There were a few boos at the groundhog’s prediction of six more weeks of winter, but most of the hundreds of revelers instead turned the event into an impromptu Pittsburgh Steelers rally.

Fans in football jerseys sang “Here we go Steelers,” and members of the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club’s Inner Circle — the top-hat- and tuxedo-wearing businessmen responsible for carrying on the groundhog tradition each year — threw black and gold Steelers “Terrible Towels” as they waited to rouse Phil from his burrow.

The furry forecaster may be popular, but the Pittsburgh Steelers are playing in the Super Bowl.

“It’s been really wonderful. This is just a ball. I’m having so much fun,” said Nancy Durr, who came from Paxton, Neb., to the small western Pennsylvania town 80 miles north of Pittsburgh to celebrate her 50th birthday.

She had been outside awaiting Phil’s arrival since about 2:15 a.m., a rub-on Punxsutawney Phil tattoo on each cheek.

Along for the ride
Others latched on to the Phil frenzy for a publicity boost — for just about anything, from global warming to the lottery.

The National Environmental Trust, for example, said it will send someone in a groundhog suit who “will ignore his shadow and will instead rely on global warming evidence to forecast an early spring.”

The American Physiological Society offered experts to discuss “What Punxsutawney Phil can teach us about surviving massive blood loss, preventing muscle atrophy, and more.”

The Pennsylvania Lottery even had Gus, “the second most famous groundhog in Pennsylvania,” who implores lottery players to “keep on scratchin’.”

None of those things are really what Groundhog Day is about, said Mike Johnston, a member of the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club’s Inner Circle, the top-hat-and-tuxedo-wearing men who carry on the tradition. Punxsutawney Phil is nonpolitical and can’t speak anyway, Johnston said.

German superstition
Each Feb. 2, thousands of people descend on Punxsutawney, a town of about 6,100 people located about 65 miles northeast of Pittsburgh, for a little midwinter revelry, celebrating what had essentially been a German superstition.

The Germans believed that if a hibernating animal casts a shadow Feb. 2 — the Christian holiday of Candlemas — winter will last another six weeks. If no shadow is seen, legend says spring will come early.

Among the out-of-town visitors in Punxsutawney was Susan Leal, who traveled from Rancho Cucamonga, Calif. The trip was a gift from her husband, John, for her 40th birthday.

“I’ve always dreamed of coming to see Punxsutawney Phil,” Leal said. “It’s in my genes. I have just always wanted to do this.”

According to the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club, Phil has seen his shadow 95 times, hasn’t seen it 14 times and there are no records for nine years.

The last time Phil failed to see his shadow was in 1999. Still, Thursday’s forecast was calling for variable cloudiness and a high of about 48 degrees — significantly warmer than the temperatures in the teens the last two years.