If he had seen his shadow, it would have meant six more weeks of Winter. Six weeks after February 2 is March 16 -- March 15 in leap years like 2016.
The first day of Spring is March 20 or 21. So, already, he's a little off. And, here in the New York Tri-State Area, we've been hit with snow as late as April 20. And there's no specific definition of "an early Spring": It could be tomorrow, or it could be just under the six-week threshold. Gee, thanks, Phil, ya dirty rodent!
(Well, groundhogs are rodents, and they do tend to be dirty. After all, he's coming out of a hole.)
According to the website Stormfax.com, from the first prediction in 1886 through 2015, the various Punxsutawney Phils (contrary to the legend of a Santa Claus-like immortality, they live an average of six years) have made 120 predictions, with an early spring (no shadow) predicted 18 times -- 15 percent. The site states (without evidence or corroborative references) that the predictions have proved correct 39 percent of the time. This is significantly worse than chance (p = 0.008), and, if the accuracy figure is correct, suggests the traditional interpretation of Punxsutawney Phil's predictions should be reversed.
So where does this silly legend come from, anyway? Some people have suggested a Celtic origin, which says if a hibernating animal casts a shadow on February 2, the Pagan holiday of Imbolc, Winter will last another six weeks. If no shadow was seen, legend says Spring would come early.
Given Pennsylvania's heavy ethnic German origins, this version is probably more accurate: Clear skies on Candlemas, February 2, were said to herald cold weather ahead. In Germany, the tradition morphed into a myth that if the sun came out on Candlemas, a hedgehog would cast its shadow, predicting snow all the way into May. When German immigrants settled in Pennsylvania, they transferred the tradition onto a local animal, replacing hedgehogs with groundhogs.
So we can blame Ze Germans for it. But, hey, they can win penalty shootouts, so these things average out, right?
Around here, there have been conflicting reports. At the Staten Island Zoo, Staten Island Chuck -- "real name," Charles G. Hogg -- also failed to see a shadow: Early Spring. But in New Jersey, at the Turtle Back Zoo in West Orange, Essex County, Essex Ed did see his shadow: Six more weeks of Winter. This was backed up in Middlesex County by Milltown Mel.
There's also an "official groundhog" in Sussex County, named Stonewall Jackson after the Confederate general of the Civil War. But the ceremony was canceled for today, because the groundhog died. Just like Stonewall himself, killed by "friendly fire."
Here's a link to a record of the Jersey groundhogs' recent accuracies, or lack thereof.
Top 10 Groundhog Day Jokes
10. Punxsutawney Phil makes conservatives out of us all. Every time it snows after February 2, I rethink my position on gun control: "I'm gonna kill that damn groundhog!"
8. Punxsutawney Phil came out and said, "Brace yourself: Six more weeks of Winter is coming!"
7. Punxsutawney Phil came out of his hole with a film camera. That means that Bill Murray will be coming back for six weeks to film Groundhog Day 2: Do It Again... and Again... and Again! (Why not, they're doing a reboot of Ghostbusters.)
6. Punxsutawney Phil came out and threw his hat in the air. That means six more weeks of Mary Tyler Moore Show reruns.
5. Darth Vader choked Punxsutawney Phil, saying, "I find your lack of an early Spring disturbing."
4. Punxsutawney Phil died. That means the woman who took the test will be pregnant before Spring.
3. Punxsutawney Phil is still around in the 23rd Century. Captain Kirk visited, and asked him if he saw his shadow, and Phil said, "Damn it, Jim, I'm a groundhog, not a weatherman!"
1. Punxsutawney Phil came out and saw a dozen shadows. That means the worst Winter ever! Oh my God! Gotta get the bread and milk!