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Prognosticator of all prognosticators

January 31, 2020
By JOYCE COMINGORE - Garden Club of Cape Coral ( , Cape Coral Daily Breeze

The great thing about living in the South is no worrying about snow. We don't have to think of it as a dirty four letter word. So what, if Punxsutawney Phil sees his shadow on Feb. 2? His full name is Punxsutawney Phil, Seer of Seers, Sage of Sages, Prognosticator and Weather Prophet Extraordinary.

Every Feb. 2 poor Phil gets dragged out of his warm nest in a well-regulated, man-made, climate controlled and light regulated zoo in the town of Punxsutawney in western Pennsylvania. The zoo is connected to a local attraction including a park, square and library.

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, PETA, are calling for Phil to retire from weather-forecasting and be replaced by an animatronic groundhog. PETA wrote a letter to the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club that it was time to change this tradition. Interrupting his sleep is inhumane, let an animatronic groundhog do the work. No need to drag him out of his hole, hold him up to flashing lights and crowds in what must be a stressful situation. They want the club to get hip to modern technology and use a robot with artificial intelligence that could reliably predict the weather. Much like Sony's robot dog, "aibo," who walks, plays, misbehaves and responds to commands. Phil's checking his shadow draws thousands of people to Gobbler's Knob, Pennsylvania, every year. Today's young people are born into a world of terabytes, and to them, watching a nocturnal rodent being pulled from a fake hole is unbelievable. To me, replacing a warm fuzzy critter with a robot defies credible. It's not the same. It lacks believability. Replacing the heart and soul of the theory defies the truth of the phrase.

Fortunately for us, we aren't worrying about snow, so Phil can just "travel on up the road." But to those we left behind "up North," they like reliability and accountability. At 7:20 a.m. every Feb. 2 in Punxsutawney, folks are gathered, festivities start at 3 a.m. with singing, dancing, bonfires and fireworks.

All festivities are held outside. You can purchase food and hot chocolate and souvenirs. Neither stand takes credit cards I understand. If P. Phil sees his shadow, that means six more weeks of winter, otherwise there is an early spring. He first has a conversation with the president of the Inner Circle of the Groundhog Club in Groundhogese, (a complicated language), then the president announces Phil's prediction, often rhyming his words. He once threatened to impose 60 weeks of winter if he didn't get booze during Prohibition.

Groundhog Day started in 1886 as an offshoot of Candlemas Day, an early Christian holiday that also served as a weather prediction. In Germany, they would wake up a badger or hedgehog to see if he saw his shadow to go along with an old English rhyme, "If Candlemas Day is clear and bright, Winter will have another bite. If Candlemas brings cloud and rain, Winter is gone and will not come again." When the German settlers came over to Pennsylvania then simply substituted a ground hog for a hedgehog.

In 1886, the editor of The Punxsutawney Spirit newspaper gave it the official name of "Groundhog Day."

A year later the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club was founded in Gobbler's Knob and soon became a global celebrity occasion.

If Punxsutawney Phil sees his shadow, there will be six more weeks of winter weather. If he does not see his shadow, there will be an early spring. He has a special car, the Philmobile, a little bus that houses members of the Inner Circle, with Phil's special seat on the outside of the bus so he can be seen.

Often, during parades in the summer, crowds will panic when they see Phil ride through as he can be seen lying on his back, legs in the air looking dead. Never fear, that's just how groundhogs cool off. A tap on the glass soon let's you to know he's alive, as he turns himself right side up.

Of course, the famous groundhog has always gotten it right. However, sometimes his predictions are mistranslated from Groundhogese to English, making some claim he got it wrong. The longest streak of correct predictions and translations lasted 12 years, 1958 to 1969. The streak of incorrect predictions lasted three years, 1948-1950, and 2011-2013. Predictions this year are from below freezing temperatures at the first of the week, to temperatures in the mid-40s by the end of the week. They suspect Punxsutawney Phil won't see his shadow because of cloudy skies in the forecasts, predicting an early spring in 2020, for the second year in a row.

Gobbler's Knob where Phil does his predicting is located at 1548 Woodland Ave. in Punxsutawney. There is no parking on Gobbler's Knob. You either walk one and a half miles uphill or take a bus. The first bus leaves at 3 a.m. and they run until 6:30. They need daylight to see if there is a shadow. Leave bags and lawn chairs at home, there is no room in the crowded hilltop, standing room only.

Other competitors are Birmingham Bill, Buckeye Chuck, Dover Doug, Essex Ed, Groundhog Uni, Grover the groundhog, Milltown Mill, Mount Gretna Grady, Mount Joy Minnie, Octorara Orphie, Poor Richard, Staten Island Chuck and Stonewall Jackson.

Other weather related animals' folklore is the a woolley bear caterpillars (its orange stripe widens with mild weather; a hornet's nest is spotted very high off the ground means there will be lots and lots of snow, less high means less snow; cats supposedly sneeze when rain is approaching, and dogs eating grass makes the same prediction,

As Shakespeare might put it, "to see or not to see, that is the quandary."

Joyce Comingore is a Master Gardener, hibiscus enthusiast and member of the Garden Club of Cape Coral.



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