10-pound meteorologist to predict spring today

February 02, 1994|By Ron Kirksey and Bob Downing | Ron Kirksey and Bob Downing,Knight-Ridder News Service

Sue Pavick said the phone had been ringing non-stop for a week and the office was out of supplies -- stamps, envelopes, fax paper.

And you can't be out of fax paper approaching Feb. 2, her community's biggest day of the year.

Ms. Pavick's office is the Chamber of Commerce of Punxsutawney, Pa., a town of 6,700 northeast of Pittsburgh, whose most famous resident is a 10-pound vegetarian who sleeps all winter.

Today is the big day -- when Punxsutawney Phil finally wakes up.

Yep, it's Groundhog Day.

Groundhog, woodchuck, whistling pig. The furry creature that is known mainly as roadkill throughout the rest of the year gets one day, today, in the sun -- and let's hope that the sun is not too bright.

Tradition holds that if the groundhog comes out of hibernation and sees its shadow, he or she heads back underground and we have six more weeks of winter. If there is no shadow, spring is supposed to be around the corner.

"We're expecting 3,000 to 5,000 people to show up . . . " for the town's celebration today, said Ms. Pavick, who is director of the Punxsutawney Chamber of Commerce.

Among groundhogs, obviously, Punxsutawney Phil has the best press agent. But there are other woodchucks in the prediction game.

Sun Prairie, Wis., has Jimmy the Groundhog. Wiarton, Ontario, has Wiarton Willie, an albino groundhog, who is said to have a 90 percent accuracy rate.

Not to be outdone, Atlanta is home to Gen. Beauregard Lee, a pampered pig who lives in the carpeted "Weathering Heights Plantation" and will be rousted for his prediction today by the Georgia Tech Marching Yellow Jackets playing "Me and My Shadow."

As a national event, Groundhog Day has as much of a heritage as most other holidays.

It was tradition in ancient Rome to use an animal's shadow to predict the weather, a practice picked up by the Teutons, or Germans, and other European people.

The tradition evolved into the idea that an animal would cast a shadow if the sun was out on Feb. 2, Candlemas Day, which celebrates the Virgin Mary. The English used a badger for this observance.

German immigrants brought the practice to America and substituted a groundhog for the European badger -- badgers being difficult to work with anyway.

Speaking of tradition, Punxsutawney Phil is the latest in a line of Phils that has been in the prediction game for 108 years. How's he doing?

"We say he's always right," Ms. Pavick said.

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