Professors shed light on Punxsutawney Phil’s shadow

With Valentine’s Day being Feb. 14, most people forget about the first holiday of the month; Groundhog Day.

Groundhog Day began 129 years ago in 1887. Celebrated on Feb. 2 every year, Groundhog Day is a well-known United States holiday.

According to the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club, it is the day that Punxsutawney Phil, the groundhog, comes out of his hole after a long winter sleep to look for his shadow. If he sees it, he regards it as an omen of six more weeks of bad weather and returns to his hole. If the day is cloudy and, hence, shadowless, he takes it as a sign of spring and stays above ground.

This holiday has its roots in a Christian tradition called Candlemas Day. On this day in the past, clergy would distribute blessed candles to people of the town. If the day the candle was given was sunny, the people believed winter would continue. However, if the day was cloudy and raining, winter was almost over and spring was near.

Is there any truth behind this meteorological myth? Dr. Sid Halsor, chair of the environmental engineering and earth science department at Wilkes, has helped to clarify this.

“It’s one of those stories, like Santa, that your heart wants to believe but your brain doesn’t,” Halsor said. “There is no correlation between what the groundhog observes and what the weather brings.”

Dr. Prahlad Murthy also helps to clarify by stating, “I am no expert on groundhogs; I know that they are known for hibernating for extended periods of time.  Their ability to forecast the end of a season or the beginning of a new season many weeks in advance is more of a folklore than science.  My understanding is that Punxy Phil has a thirty percent prediction success rate, which is actually decent in meteorological terms.”

When asked, Wilkes students said they hope the groundhog does not see his shadow and that winter will be over soon. However, most students do not believe there is much weight to this legend.