Punxsutawney Phil has spoken, and the news isn’t good.
The world’s most famous furry forecaster saw his shadow Wednesday on Gobbler’s Knob, suggesting another six weeks of wintry weather.
The chubby critter delivered the prediction after he was pulled from his burrow in an oak stump at 7:31 a.m. by a top-hatted handler, and his prediction was greeted by boos from the thousands in attendance.
“He’s only the messenger!” one of the members of the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club — the volunteer group in charge of Phil and the town’s Groundhog Day festivities — reminded the crowd braving the frigid weather.
In the years since The Punxsutawney Spirit first carried word of the groundhog’s failing to see its shadow in 1886, this town of 7,500 people about 65 miles northeast of Pittsburgh has been dubbed the “Weather Capital of the World.”
Critter to retire
The tradition stems from the Christian holiday of Candlemas, and the belief that if a hibernating animal sees its shadow, winter will last another six weeks. If there’s no shadow, spring will come early.
That was the forecast from Lilburn, Ga., groundhog, Gen. Beauregard Lee, who did not see his shadow when he emerged as light rain fell Wednesday morning. Beau made his appearance with a female groundhog their handlers at Yellow River Game Ranch hope will produce offspring to continue the tradition if the aging prognosticator retires this year.
In Punxsutawney, an energetic crowd of about 2,000 people was already assembled by 3:30 a.m. Most were bundled against the cold, but at least one young woman braved the weather in a bikini top.
Nikki Wehrmann and her 9-year-old daughter, Arianne, had on layer upon layer as they huddled over coffee and hot chocolate. Arianne was taking the day off from school to see Phil, her mother said. They live in nearby DuBois.
“We considered this an educational purpose,” said Wehrmann, who told her daughter about the history of Groundhog Day and plans to have Arianne do a project on the event.
“And anything that brings 20,000 or 30,000 people on some years we have to do it at least once,” Wehrmann said.
Resident Sue Lingenfelter said the annual frenzy, and just how famous Phil is, still amazes her.
“I just placed a catalog order yesterday and the guy said to me, ’Is your town ready to go crazy?”’ she said.
Ward Brown, 50, and his sister Suzy Fulkerson, 41, came from Sparta, Ill., although they tied the trip in with a visit to their sister, who recently moved to nearby DuBois.
“It was a good excuse to visit her,” said Brown, who was toting a $75 stump of wood a craftsman had carved into the shape of a groundhog sporting a top hat.
According to the Punxsutawney club, Phil saw his shadow for the 95th time. He hasn’t seen his shadow 14 times; nine years have no record of the outcome.