Phil, Sir Walter Wally make their predictions today


As this is being written on Wednesday afternoon, Robeson County is basking in the sun, enjoying 70-degree temperatures on a winter day wearing summer clothes.

But the weather was much different in Punxsutawney, Pa., where it was snowing yesterday, and more of the fluffy stuff is expected today, which is Feb. 2, also Groundhog Day.

So the nation this morning turns its attention toward Punxsutawney, where a groundhog named Phil will emerge from his burrow to check the weather, and should the weather be cloudy, which the forecast suggests will happen, then he won’t see his shadow and we can look forward to an early spring. Should Phil see his shadow, however, that means an additional six weeks of winter.

Although the tradition seems silly, man has for centuries observed animal behavior as a forecaster of the weather, and Groundhog Day springs from a German tradition in the 18th and 19th centuries when people studied the hibernation patterns of bears to forecast the weather.

Groundhog Day was created in the United States in 1887 in Punxsutawney, when Clymer H. Freas, editor of the newspaper “Punxsutawney Spirit,” began promoting the town’s groundhog as the official “Groundhog Day meteorologist.”

Feb. 2 was picked because it is the halfway point between the winter solstice and the spring equinox.

According to a press release from the N.C. Department of Natural and Cultural Resources, North Carolina has its own groundhogs who predict the weather, Sir Walter Wally at the N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences, Grady at Chimney Rock State Park, Sunshine and Stormy at the N.C. Zoo Wildlife Rehabilitation Center, Nibbles at the WNC Nature Center in Asheville and Queen Charlotte in Charlotte.

Sir Walter Wally, according to the museum, has been forecasting since 1998, which makes him pretty old for a groundhog, and he has shown himself to be a better predictor than Phil, with an accurate forecast 58 percent of the time to Phil’s 38 percent. Both were correct last year in their prediction of an early spring.

We find Phil’s mark disappointing, figuring that a flip of a coin would be correct 50 percent of the time.

According to the N.C. Department of Natural and Cultural Resources, some U.S. states don’t look to groundhogs for their predictions. In Alaska, Feb. 2 is Marmot Day. Clark County, Nevada celebrates the day with a desert tortoise named Mojave Max. Louisiana boasts a trio of groundhog alternatives — T-Boy the nutria in New Orleans; Pierre C. Shadeaux, a coypu in New Iberia; and Claude the Cajun Crawfish, who made his prediction yesterday in Shreveport, just in time for Mardi Gras.

The N.C. Department of Natural and Cultural Resources reminds us that in North Carolina there is the Wooly Worm, a caterpillar whose stripes are said to predict how harsh the winter will be. People have also looked to squirrels, frogs, cows, birds, ladybugs and other animals to predict weather changes.

We really only see fair weather in the forecast. Should Phil or Sit Walter Wally not see their shadow, the forecast is for an early spring, but should they, then we should expect an extended winter. Given that this winter has been a lot like an extended early spring, we are just fine with that.

We are more interested in who they like in the Super Bowl.

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