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Groundhog Day’s Shadowy Science

(Potomac Phil, a taxidermied groundhog brought out to determine whether or not he sees his shadow sits near by in Washington, DC, on February 2, 2012.)

Photo by KAREN BLEIER/AFP/Getty Images

Happy Groundhog Day! Punxsutawney Phil, the famous Pennsylvania weather oracle, announced today that this year, winter is far from over. Legend has it that if a groundhog sees his shadow, winter weather will last another six weeks. No shadow means an early spring is coming.

Thousands gathered at Gobbler’s Knob, Penn., today to witness the marmot make his annual prediction—one that saw a long cold season ahead. But other official groundhogs foretold an impending spring. So, just how scientific are these furry fortunetellers? Though Groundhog Day proponents state that the rodents’ forecasts are accurate 75 to 90 percent of the time, a Canadian study for 13 cities in the past 30 to 40 years puts the success rate level at 37 percent. Also, the National Climatic Data Center reportedly stated that the overall prediction accuracy rate is around 39 percent.

Not bad, in weatherman terms. The furry forecaster’s confusion this year may spring from the fact that today’s weather was about 20 degrees warmer in Pennsylvania than the season norm. Are Phil and his groundhog buddies taking global warming into account?