Believe it or not, all of the commotion in this photo -- the huge crowd, the reporter, the man in the top hat -- is caused by what looks like an oversized squirrel in top hat man's arms. It's actually a groundhog known as Punxsutawney Phil, and each year on Feb. 2, for more than a century, a groundhog like this one has been brought out before a crowd gathered in Punxsutawney, Pa. As the story goes, if Phil sees his shadow, it means six more weeks of winter weather. If he doesn't, then it means an early spring is on the way. Well, get ready to start cleaning early and throwing open the windows, because this year the famous groundhog saw no shadow and predicted an early spring. (He did not, however, predict the winner of the upcoming Panthers-Broncos Super Bowl match-up. So the rodent has his predictive limitations.)VIDEO: The Weird History Behind Groundhog Day
Before the big shadow-or-no-shadow reveal, there's a party atmosphere, with singing, and, eventually, more men in top hats.2013: The Groundhog Lied! Early Spring Still Chilly
Said party starts long before sunrise in Punxsutawney, as thousands gather to find out whether winter will linger long or make a hasty retreat.2015: Punxsutawney Phil Predicts Winter Will Linger
Punxsutawney Phil isn't above letting his likeness be used for promotional merchandising purposes. Hopefully he gets a cut of the proceeds.Hibernators Stretch After Long Winter's Nap: Photos
As you might imagine, the men in tuxedos and top hats have a special place in the groundhog day apparatus. They belong to the inner circle, the group in charge of taking care of Phil throughout the year and planning the yearly festivities.What's With All The World Cup-Predicting Animals?
The groundhog day party takes place in Gobbler's Knob, a wooded area a couple of miles outside of Punxsutawney. Here a pair of revelers seeking a souvenir get their picture taken in front of the entrance.Buffalo-Sized Rodent Used Its Teeth Like Tusks
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
Actor Bill Murray, no stranger to unusual roles, played the lead in a film that brought even greater fame to groundhog day. The movie "Groundhog Day" starred Murray as a newscaster stuck in a hellish temporal loop, where each day plays itself out exactly as did the previous one. Thanks to the movie, the term "groundhog day" has even entered the lexicon: If you're stuck in a day of repetitive tasks, just tell people you're having a groundhog day -- they'll know what you mean.Famous Faces Turned Into Video Puppets
Sonny and Cher's 1965 single "I Got You Babe" reached more ears than it had in many years when it was featured prominently in "Groundhog Day." Each morning of his awful, repeating day, Bill Murray's character wakes up to the song playing on his alarm clock. "I Got You Babe" hit #1 in the U.S. and U.K. in the summer of 1965, the same year this groovy photo was taken.VIDEO: How Music Affects Your Brain
Groundhogs are also known as woodchucks or marmots. They're the largest members of the squirrel family and can climb trees, as well as swim. They'll typically weigh about 13 pounds (6 kilograms) and hibernate in underground burrows after the first frost. They'll eat grasses, plants, fruits and even tree bark.Rodents Show Empathy For Loved Ones In Pain
National Park Service
Here's a groundhog preparing to retreat into its burrow.How To Tell If A Hamster Is Truly Happy
Finally, of course, we could be forgiven for wondering about the accuracy of the "predictions" made by everyone's favorite furry meteorologist. Is Phil a reliable indicator of continuing winter drudgery vs. the flowering of an early spring? There's a reasonable data sample from which to draw, as Phil and his various incarnations have been at this game for more than 100 years, starting in 1887. His predictions are on the money about 39 percent of the time, according to LiveScience. Does that mean the little fella doesn't know what he's doing? We could ask him, but it's doubtful we'd understand his answer. And, anyway, where's the fun in holding him accountable?Adorable Animals You Just Want To Kiss: Photos
Punxsutawney Phil’s false prophecy and failed forecast have made him some powerful enemies.
Last week, Michael Gmoser, the prosecuting attorney of Butler County, Ohio, issued a tongue-in-cheek indictment against the Pennsylvania groundhog. Gmoser charged the rodent with “misrepresentation of early spring,” and sought the death penalty for the fibbing Phil.
“When he betrays us like this, something has to be done,” Gmoser told the Washington Post.
However, Phil also has friends in high places. The Nurick Law Group has filed a cease-and-desist notice against Grosner, reported the Washington Post. Execution of Phil would be cruel and unusual, since the punishment far exceeds the severity of the crime. Beyond that, Phil is believed to be less than 18 years of age, and so it would be unconstitutional to institute the death penalty. The Nurick Law Group cited Roper v. Simmons, 543 U.S. 551 (2005) as a precedent of this.
Frankly, beyond the legalese and death threats, I believe Americans feel let down by Phil. When a beloved public figure fails us, we want to lash out at them. Can we really put all the blame on Phil? As Homer Simpson once said, “It takes two to lie. One to lie and one to listen.”
Perhaps we were all fools to believe a rodent could properly prognosticate the weather. Perhaps Punxsutawney Phil didn’t mean to punk America. He may have simply made an error. That doesn’t mean he betrayed us.
On the other hand, it might be a good idea to see if Phil made any sudden purchases of stock in road salt and snow shovel companies after making his erroneous report of an early spring.
IMAGE: Famed weather prognosticating groundhog Punxsutawney Phil has only one eye open as he prepares to make his annual prediction on Gobbler’s Knob in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, on the 127th Groundhog Day, Feb. 2, 2013. An early spring was predicted as Phil did not see his shadow. (Jason Cohn, Corbis)