Punxsutawney Phil predicts an early spring

Weather prognosticating groundhog Punxsutawney Phil makes his annual prediction on Gobbler's Knob in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, on the 123rd Groundhog Day, February 2, 2009. Phil saw his shadow, predicting six more weeks of winter. REUTERS/Jason Cohn (UNITED STATES)

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Weather prognosticating groundhog Punxsutawney Phil makes his annual prediction on Gobbler's Knob in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, on the 123rd Groundhog Day, February 2, 2009. Phil saw his shadow, predicting six more weeks of winter. REUTERS/Jason Cohn (UNITED STATES)

Caroline Foley, Staff Writer

The official prediction is in: after failing to see his shadow, Punxsutawney Phil is calling for an early spring this year.

Phil emerged from his burrow at Gobbler’s Knob in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania shortly after 7:20 on February 2, 2016 and “announced” his prediction in front of thousands of eager spectators.  According to CNN, Bill Deeley, the president of the “Inner Circle,” a group tasked with caring for Phil and organizing the event each year, is the only person capable of understanding Punxsutawney Phil and relaying his forecast to the crowds.

According to the official Punxsutawney Groundhog Day Club website, the quirky tradition of receiving weather forecasts from a groundhog dates back 130 years.  The reasoning of the forecasts is that if Phil sees his shadow, he regards it as an omen of six more weeks of bad weather and returns to his hole, whereas if the day is cloudy and therefore shadowless, he takes it as a sign of spring and stays above ground.

Unfortunately for Phil, according to a report published by the National Centers for Environmental Information in Asheville, N.C., based on past weather data, “there is no predictive skill for the groundhog during the most recent years of the analysis.”  According to USA Today, since 1988 the groundhog correctly predicted the weather outlook 13 times and incorrectly predicted it 15.  In other words, based on statistics, Phil is about as accurate as flipping a coin.

Last year, for instance, Phil saw his shadow and predicted a lengthier winter.  While national temperature reports were slightly below average in February, March was marginally warmer than average, leading to what seemed to be a moderately earlier spring, so 2015 can be regarded as a somewhat correct prediction.

Since his first year forecasting his weather prediction, Phil has seen his shadow a total of 102 times, not seen his shadow 18 times, and had no recorded prediction for 10 other years.

Over the years, Phil has gained national fame for his annual forecast.  The 1993 movie Groundhog Day was released by Columbia Pictures, and in the years since the movie was released, record crowds numbering as high as 30,000 have visited Gobbler’s Knob in Punxsutawney.  Phil made an appearance on the Oprah Winfrey Show in 1995, and his prediction was shown live on the JumboTron at Times Square in New York City in 2001.

While Phil may not be the most reliable source when it comes to predicting weather, the long-standing tradition carries on, and hopefully this year’s prediction of an early spring will prove to be true.