Gentlemen, Start Your Groundhogs!

Groundhog Punxsutawney Phil gets a reaction from Laurel Johnson, left, and Margaret Baker, center, as he emerges from a box after handler Bill Deeley, right, placed him there while visiting Vaseline's exhibit tent in Barclay Square in the Punxsutawney, PA, Feb. 1, 2006, where businesses and others are doing their best to benefit from the wave of Groundhog Day publicity.
AP Photo/Vaseline
Punxsutawney Phil is already a famous forecaster. But some think the cute and cuddly groundhog can provide a publicity boost for anything from global warming to the lottery.

Hundreds of people are descending upon Gobbler's Knob in Punxsutawney, Pa., to watch Phil roused from his burrow Thursday to predict an early spring or more winter. Among them are dozens of groups trying to grab on to the annual Phil frenzy.

The National Environmental Trust, for example, said it will send someone in a groundhog suit who "will ignore his shadow and will instead rely on global warming evidence to forecast an early spring."

The American Physiological Society is offering experts to discuss "What Punxsutawney Phil can teach us about surviving massive blood loss, preventing muscle atrophy, and more."

The Pennsylvania Lottery even has Gus, "the second most famous groundhog in Pennsylvania," who implores lottery players to "keep on scratchin'."

None of those things are really what Groundhog Day is about, said Mike Johnston, a member of the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club's Inner Circle, the top-hat-and-tuxedo-wearing men who carry on the tradition. Punxsutawney Phil is nonpolitical and can't speak anyway, Johnston said.

Each Feb. 2, thousands of people descend on Punxsutawney, a town of about 6,100 people located about 65 miles northeast of Pittsburgh, for a little midwinter revelry, celebrating what had essentially been a German superstition.

The Germans believed that if a hibernating animal casts a shadow Feb. 2 - the Christian holiday of Candlemas - winter will last another six weeks. If no shadow is seen, legend says spring will come early.

Among the out-of-town visitors already in Punxsutawney was Susan Leal, who traveled from Rancho Cucamongo, Calif. The trip was a gift from her husband, John, for her 40th birthday.

"I've always dreamed of coming to see Punxsutawney Phil," Leal said. "It's in my genes. I have just always wanted to do this."

According to the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club, Phil has seen his shadow 95 times, hasn't seen it 14 times and there are no records for nine years.

The last time Phil failed to see his shadow was in 1999. Still, Thursday's forecast was calling for variable cloudiness and a high of about 48 degrees - significantly warmer than the temperatures in the teens the last two years.