It’s Groundhog Day: Is winter finally over? (VIDEO)

© Jason Cohn
Today is Groundhog Day – which means that residents of Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania (and fans of the 1993 movie) have turned to a famous furry critter for his forecast on the arrival of spring.

The tradition of February 2 as Groundhog Day dates back to 1887. Local folklore says that a groundhog – a type of marmot, also known as woodchuck or whistlepig – can predict the weather for the next month and a half. 

This year's event started around 6 a.m. and saw Pennsylvania's official groundhog scurry from his tree trunk home to predict an early spring.

After a brief consultation with the animal, the organizers declared: "There is no shadow to be cast, an early spring is my forecast." 

History

The tradition stems from early German Christian settlers who made their way to the north-east of the US and adapted a pagan ritual by swapping out a European badger for a groundhog.

“It is the day that the groundhog comes [out] of his hole after a long winter sleep to look for his shadow,” the official website for the ritual states.

According to the legend, if the four-legged creature is spooked by his own shadow and returns into his burrow, there will be a further six weeks of cold and miserable weather.

However, if the sun fails to shine on the groundhog and he stays out in the open, then it is time for spring. (Yes, a lack of sunshine apparently indicates the arrival of spring.)

Gobbler's Knob - stop sniggering at the back - in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania was the site of the first Groundhog Day celebration. According to Time Magazine, that event saw the poor rodent eaten as an evening treat.

The unofficial holiday is now observed in a number of states across the US.

In modern times, the occasion sees thousands of people descend on the Jefferson County town to catch a glimpse of the pet forecaster.

There the groundhog will emerge from his Punxsutawney home and whisper his prediction to the Groundhog Club President, who then apparently translates the forecast.

The old tradition was brought to a wider audience by furry critter Punxsutawney Phil and Bill Murray in the 1993 comedy classic Groundhog Day.

In the Hollywood outing, pessimistic weatherman Phil Connors is forced to live through the same Groundhog Day "over and over" again until he gets it right.

The plot is basically a twist on Charles Dickens’ Christmas Carol - except instead of ghoulish spirits, Connors is confronted by his own miserable life repeated endlessly on a loop.

Groundhog fails

While certainly an interesting and obscure celebration, Groundhog Day has not always gone as smoothly as expected.

Last year, instead of imparting his meteorological wisdom, a groundhog in Wisconsin took a bite out of the mayor’s ear. 

In 2011, a snow storm in the New York town of Malverne meant the groundhog was forced to stay inside his burrow – and the event was cancelled. 

Three years later, in 2014, a groundhog was dropped on her head by New York City mayor Bill de Blasio, dying days later from internal injuries.