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How accurate are Punxsutawney Phil's Groundhog Day predictions?

Watch: Punxsutawney Phil delivers his Groundhog Day 2024 forecast
Watch: Punxsutawney Phil delivers his Groundhog Day 2024 forecast 05:08

Punxsutawney Phil predicted an early spring on Groundhog Day 2024. But warm weather fans hoping for an early end to winter may not want to put their faith in the groundhog's prognostications.. 

Phil's been used for weather predictions for more than 130 years. According to the legend, if Phil sees his shadow on Feb. 2, he predicts six additional weeks of winter. But if he doesn't see his shadow, he predicts an early spring. Unfortunately, his forecasting track record since 1887 has been a bit spotty.

"Predicting the arrival of springtime for an entire country, especially one with such varied regional climates as the United States, isn't easy! Phil's track record is evidence of that," according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

What has Phil predicted on Groundhog Day?

Phil makes his prediction on Feb. 2, halfway between the Winter Solstice and Spring Equinox. More often than not, Punxsutawney Phil sees his shadow, a sign of more winter. 

Between 1887 and 2023, the forecasting groundhog saw his shadow 107 times,  according to NOAA. There was no shadow to be seen 20 times. During the late 1800s, 10 years were lost because no records were kept, according to the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club. In 1942, Phil had a partial shadow, and the following year, he didn't make an appearance. Records do not specify why Phil skipped his 1943 appearance.

Groundhog handler holds Punxsutawney Phil
Groundhog handler AJ Dereume holds Punxsutawney Phil, who did not see his shadow, during the 134th annual Groundhog Day festivities on Feb. 2, 2020, in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania.  Jeff Swensen/Getty Images

Are Phil's Groundhog Day predictions accurate?

Punxsutawney Phil is a groundhog, not a meteorologist. Between 2013 and 2023, he saw his shadow seven times, and of those seven, he was correct only once. 

NOAA's determinations on Phil's accuracy are based on temperatures in February and March. Here's how it breaks down:

  • 2013: No shadow — His prediction was right.
  • 2014: Shadow — His prediction was right.
  • 2015: Shadow — His prediction was wrong. 
  • 2016: No shadow — His prediction was right.
  • 2017: Shadow — His prediction was wrong. 
  • 2018: Shadow — His prediction was wrong. 
  • 2019: No shadow — His prediction was wrong. 
  • 2020: No shadow — His prediction was right.
  • 2021: Shadow — His prediction was wrong. 
  • 2022: Shadow — His prediction was wrong. 
  • 2023: Shadow — His prediction was wrong. 

Phil's accuracy rate over the time period was 36%. Overall, the Stormfax Almanac says, Phil has only been right 39% of the time going back to his first recorded prediction in 1887. 

However, the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club — which claims the same groundhog has been making predictions since the 1800s thanks to drinking the "elixir of life" — alleges, without evidence, that Phil has been right "100% of the time, of course!"

Where did the Groundhog Day tradition even come from?

Groundhog Day has its roots in both pagan and Christian traditions, including Imbolc and Candlemas. Early Christians believed that clear skies on Candlemas Day, which falls on Feb. 2, meant a longer winter was ahead, according to the National Weather Service. They believed a cloudy day foreshadowed the end of winter. 

European weather lore details using a badger to predict the weather during the mid-winter holidays. When Germans came to America and settled in Pennsylvania, they brought along the tradition, but not the badger, the NWS said. They began using a groundhog as a replacement. 

The tradition was formalized as Groundhog Day thanks to Clymer H. Freas, the editor of the Punxsutawney Spirit Newspaper, according to the NWS. Freas proclaimed Punxsutawney Phil, the local groundhog, as the official weather forecasting groundhog. 

He now makes his prediction each year from Gobbler's Knob and shares it with what the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club describes as his "Inner Circle."

"After Phil emerges from his burrow on February 2, he speaks to the Groundhog Club president in 'Groundhogese' (a language only understood by the current president of the Inner Circle). His proclamation is then translated for the world," according to the club.

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