By Caroline Shannon-Karasik
Updated: Feb 02, 2019 @ 11:15 am
Brett Carlsen/Getty Images

Groundhog Day 2019 falls on Saturday, February 2nd. That’s right, it’s almost that time of year when we look to a woodchuck to predict the future. Turns out that pulling a groundhog out of his or her burrow to tell us whether we will be bundling up for six more weeks or welcoming shorts season early is a time-honored tradition.

And Punxsutawney Phil is no ordinary groundhog. According to The Punxsutawney Groundhog Club, “Punxsutawney Phil is the only true weather forecasting groundhog. The others are just impostors.” Sounds territorial. Sorry local groundhogs, guess there can be only one official groundhog.

Let’s back up for a second. What is Groundhog Day, and why do we celebrate it? Where did the idea that a rodent can predict the weather come from? Here’s everything you need to know about the tradition, including where it first started, and what to expect if you venture to Punxsutawney for the main event.

How Does It Work Again?

If you’re hoping for a short winter, then here’s what you’ll want to look for come the big day: No Groundhog Day shadow means an early spring. But if Punxsutawney Phil is pulled from his stump and sees his shadow, then you can expect six more weeks of winter. (According to EarthSky, this has less to do with Phil seeing his shadow and more to do with whether or not the day is sunny or overcast when he emerges.)

Since 1887, the Groundhog Day results have been as follows: Phil has seen his shadow 103 times and not seen his shadow 18 times (there are no records for 10 of the years), according to the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club. Wait — does this mean there is a 104-year-old gopher running around Pennsylvania?

According to the Groundhog Club’s website, there has only ever been one Punxsutawney Phil, and he doesn’t age like everyday groundhogs. “Punxsutawney Phil gets his longevity from drinking the ‘elixir of life,’ a secret recipe,” the website noted. “Phil takes one sip every summer at the Groundhog Picnic and it magically gives him seven more years of life.”

And while that is clearly not the case — groundhogs typically live to be nine to 14 years old in captivity — you won’t soon be able to discover information about how many Punxsutawney Phils there have been. But basic math tells us that’s anywhere from nine to 15 groundhogs over the more than 100 years the celebration has been taking place in Punxsutawney.

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Um, Okay, But: How Accurate Is Phil?

In terms of accuracy, a 2016 USA Today article noted that, “flipping a coin might be as accurate as Phil.” Way harsh.

“Since 1988, the groundhog was ‘right’ 13 times and ‘wrong’ 15 times,” the publication reported. “In other words, only 13 times did the national average temperature for the remainder of February match what would be expected based on what the groundhog predicted.”

Stormfax Almanac’s data shows that the groundhog’s forecasting accuracy has been correct approximately 39 percent of the time. Not exactly something you want to plan your outfits by.

The History of Groundhog Day

Groundhog Day’s roots extend much further back in history than its American tradition. Most people associate Groundhog Day with the Christian holiday of Candlemas Day (known as the Presentation of the Lord), which is also celebrated on February 2nd. The holiday involves people taking candles to church to have them blessed in order to bring good fortune, according to The Punxsutawney Groundhog Club. The candles were also thought to represent how long and cold the winter might be, History.com notes.

Germans reportedly took the concept one step further by choosing a hedgehog to predict winter, according to History.com. They believed that the day would be sunny only if the animals saw their shadows. Once they came to America, the hedgehog was traded for a groundhog, History.com reports.

The first Groundhog Day in the United States occurred on February 2, 1887, according to History.com. The idea of a “groundhog meteorologist,” the website notes, came from Clymer Freas, a Punxsutawney newspaper editor who suggested the animal could predict the winter forecast. The first celebration occurred at Gobbler’s Knob in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, and has taken place every February 2nd since then.

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Does President Trump Attend This Celebration?

It would seem the president of the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club is much more important than POTUS on Phil’s big day. The president of the Groundhog Club heads up the PJC’s Inner Circle, a group of men who are responsible for handling and feeding Phil, as well as hoisting him in the air on February 2.

Groundhog Day Fun

According to Business Insider, thousands of people visit Gobbler’s Knob for Groundhog Day each year. If you plan to be one of them, there’s plenty to do before and after the major weather reveal. In addition to the main event, visitors can participate in a number of activities including a food tour, snowshoeing, and wine tastings, as well as several kid-specific crafts and contests.

Can’t make it to Gobbler’s Knob to participate in the day’s festivities? That’s understandable. Most major news networks will provide some coverage of Groundhog Day 2019 and you can also livestream Phil’s prediction at VisitPa.com.

The Punxsutawney Groundhog Club will provide updates on all of its social media channels, including Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram (follow the hashtag #ghd2019 for coverage).

To get in the mood, we suggest queuing up Bill Murray’s 1993 movie, Groundhog Day.