Does Groundhog Day Matter?


Jon Dawson

Gobbler’s Knob near the town of Punxsutawney, Pa. is the focus of TV cameras and thousands of live viewers on Groundhog Day, when Punxsutawney Phil makes his prediction about the length of the remaining winter. The visitors on Groundhog Day and throughout the year are a significant part of the local economy, according to “While Groundhog Day is certainly a fun event for visitors, the economic impact from Pennsylvania’s most unique holiday has on the town of Punxsutawney and surrounding communities is astounding.” Creative Commons photo: Jon Dawson on Flickr.

Geoffrey Franc, Staff Writer

Legend has it that when a groundhog comes out of hibernation on Feb. 2 and sees its shadow, there will be six more weeks of winter, and if not, an early spring. So each year on Feb. 2, in Punxsutawney, Pa. (north of Pittsburgh), Punxsutawney Phil, the town’s groundhog, is lifted out of a man-made tree stump called Gobbler’s Knob to make his prediction about the length of the remaining winter. On Groundhog Day, 2022, he predicted six more weeks of winter, according to CBS News.

According to the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club, the organizer of the town’s Groundhog Day events and the caretaker of Punxsutawney Phil, tens of thousands of people attend the event every year to hear his prediction. “He speaks to the Groundhog Club president in ‘Groundhogese’ (a language only understood by the current president of the Inner Circle),” the club’s website states. “His proclamation is then translated for the world.”

The club claims that today’s groundhog is the same one from the town’s first celebration of the holiday in 1886, but according to PBS, wild groundhogs live on average 2-3 years. The club, however, continues to justify its claim that Phil has lived more than 50 times the average lifespan of a groundhog. “Punxsutawney Phil gets his longevity from drinking the ‘elixir of life,’ a secret recipe,” the club’s website states. “Phil takes one sip every summer at the Groundhog Picnic and it magically gives him seven more years of life.”

However, not every weather-predicting groundhog is immortal. According to NPR, on Feb. 1, 2022, it was announced that a New Jersey weather-predicting groundhog named Milltown Mel was dead and that no replacement could be found in time for Groundhog Day.

Punxsutawney is the most well-known host of a weather-predicting groundhog, but other towns celebrate with their own groundhogs. This includes Sun Prairie, Wis., where Jimmy the groundhog bit the mayor’s ear in 2015.

Also among these is New York City, where on Groundhog Day 2014 the Staten Island Zoo’s groundhog fell from then-Mayor Bill de Blasio’s hands, according to the New York Times. It was later revealed that the groundhog had died one week later of, according to the zoo, “sudden internal injuries,” and this prompted a debate over whether or not de Blasio killed it.

According to The Punxsutawney Groundhog Club, the Groundhog Day tradition has its roots in the old holiday Candlemas, when on Feb. 2 Christians would go to church and have their candles blessed to bring good fortune for the winter. In Germany, it was thought that if the hedgehog came out of hibernation and saw his shadow, there would be six more weeks of bad weather. When Germans immigrated to America, the hedgehog was swapped for a groundhog.

However, unlike most groundhogs, Punxsutawney Phil lives in a manmade, climate controlled zoo, according to the club, and as a result, doesn’t hibernate.

This has attracted the attention of animal rights groups and, according to CBS Pittsburgh, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals asked that Punxsutawney Phil be retired. “For far too long, he’s been dragged out of a fake tree stump and subjected to noise, flashing lights, and crowds, against all of his natural instincts,” the letter to the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club said.

Phil’s accuracy is also disputed. The club’s website claims that he is correct “100% of the time,” but according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, from 2011 to 2020, Punxsutawney Phil had a prediction accuracy of 50%. Furthermore, other towns’ weather-predicting groundhogs often contradict Phil.

While Phil’s predictions aren’t any more accurate than flipping a coin, they do matter to the town of Punxsutawney. According to, the holiday brings in millions of dollars from visitors for the local economy every year. This is an economic boon to a town where the median household income is half the Pennsylvania average and 40% of children live in poverty, according to the 2020 U.S. Census. “The economic impact from Pennsylvania’s most unique holiday has on the town of Punxsutawney and surrounding communities is astounding,” states.