Competition for Punxsutawney Phil

2012-02-02 20:17
Groundhog Club handler Ron Ploucha holds Punxsutawney Phil, the weather prognosticating groundhog, during the 126th celebration of Groundhog Day on Gobbler's Knob in Punxsutawney, USA. (Gene J Puskar, AP)

Groundhog Club handler Ron Ploucha holds Punxsutawney Phil, the weather prognosticating groundhog, during the 126th celebration of Groundhog Day on Gobbler's Knob in Punxsutawney, USA. (Gene J Puskar, AP) (Gene J Puskar)

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New York - Hollywood star and weather seer Punxsutawney Phil used to be the only groundhog that mattered in weather predicting, but Phil's shock decision on Thursday that spring is still six weeks away put him out on a limb.

As the eastern United States enjoys an exceptionally mild winter, most would have guessed that spring is around the corner.

But when Punxsutawney Phil emerged from his burrow on Thursday, his handlers announced he was able to see his shadow. According to tradition, that signals six more weeks of winter.

Nothing if not self-assured, the clever groundhog, whose persona starred in a Bill Murray comedy Groundhog Day, immediately updated his Facebook page: "6 MORE WEEKS OF WINTER!!!!!!"

The ritual in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania risked provoking sceptics, whether children looking forlornly at their unused sleds, or adults sweltering on their way to the office in winter overcoats.

As it happens, last year, in the thick of a particularly savage, snowy winter, Phil perkily suggested that he hadn't seen his shadow and therefore relief was around the corner. Maybe not so clever.

Americans might start paying more attention to Phil's often overlooked competitor Charles G Hogg, the resident groundhog at Staten Island Zoo in New York City.

On being dragged out of his burrow on Thursday in the presence of Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Chuck, as he's commonly known, did not see his shadow - meaning, of course, that currently mild temperatures will stay that way right up until the official start of spring.

CBS reports that Chuck, who provoked admiration in some quarters when he bit Bloomberg's hand in 2009, has been more right than wrong since the Staten Island tradition started in the 1980s.

This year, even lesser rivals in Georgia and Ohio also reportedly failed to see their shadows, piling more pressure on poor old Punxsutawney Phil. It must be enough to make him want to slink back into hibernation.

Groundhog Day, which falls each year on February 2, started with a German tradition in which farmers monitored the animal's behaviour closely to make decisions about when their fields should be planted.

Punxsutawney held its first Groundhog Day in the 1800s, according to the official website.

- SAPA
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