PUNXSUTAWNEY, Pa. (AP) — Punxsutawney Phil predicted an early spring Friday at Gobbler’s Knob in Pennsylvania, the scene of the largest and best-known Groundhog Day celebration in the United States.
The annual event is a tongue-in-cheek ritual in which Phil’s handlers, members of a club with roots in the late 19th century, reveal whether the groundhog has seen his shadow.
Just after sunrise Friday, the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club announced Phil did not see his shadow, which will usher in early springlike weather. The groundhog seeing his shadow presages six more weeks of winter, according to the group.
Before the announcement, Punxsutawney Groundhog Club President Tom Dunkel told the crowd that a cane he held gave him the power to speak “Groundhog-ese” and that Phil would tell him which of two scrolls to use. At Dunkel’s direction, the crowd helped fire-up the groundhog with repeated chants of “Phil!” before a club member pulled the groundhog from a door in a stump on the stage and held it aloft.
Dunkel and other club members leaned over the stump where the groundhog sat before announcing that they had a decision.
Vice President Dan McGinley read the decision, written in verse, from the chosen scroll and announced, “Glad tidings on this Groundhog Day, an early spring is on the way!”
About 10,000 people have made their way in recent years to Punxsutawney, where festivities begin in the dead of night and culminate in the midwinter forecast. A bundled-up crowd, some wearing groundhog-themed hats, watched musical performances and fireworks as they waited for sunrise and the appearance of Punxsutawney Phil.
Pennsylvania Gov. Josh Shapiro took the stage before Phil to urge people around the world watching the festivities to come to Punxsutawney next year. Shapiro also announced the famed groundhog is the new official meteorologist for Pennsylvania.
“Punxsutawney is the center of the universe right now and I love that you’re all here,” Shapiro said.
Phil predicts more winter far more often than he sees an early spring, not a bad bet for February and March in western Pennsylvania. A federal agency took a look at his record last year and put his accuracy rate at about 40%.
The tradition of celebrating the midpoint between the shortest day of the year on the winter solstice and the spring equinox goes back many centuries in European farm life.
There are more than a dozen active groundhog clubs in Pennsylvania, some dating back to the 1930s, and weather-predicting groundhogs have appeared in at least 28 U.S. states and Canadian provinces.
The 1993 blockbuster film “Groundhog Day,” starring Bill Murray, fueled interest in Punxsutawney Phil and inspired informal observations far and wide.
When he’s not making his annual prognostication, Phil lives in a customized space beside the Punxsutawney Memorial Library, with a window where library patrons can check out his burrow. Back in 2009, library workers said Phil had somehow managed to escape three times, climbing into the library ceiling and dropping into offices about 50 feet (15 meters) away. He wasn’t injured.