The groundhog is a large burrowing North American rodent, related to the gound squirrel.  Also known as a woodchuck or a marmot, its scientific name is Marmota monax.  It is common in the northeastern and central United States. A typical groundhog weighs 4 to 9 pounds, but they can get up to 30 pounds. I’m glad they aren’t common in California–I already have plenty of ground squirrels in my backyard and don’t think I need any giant ones. 

An ancient German folk belief is that a badger can predict the length of winter. Germans who immigrated to America transferred this belief to the goundhog.

Goundhog Day takes place on February 2nd, which is Candlemas Day, roughly halfway through winter. If the groundhog comes out of his burrow on February 2nd and sees his shadow (because the weather is sunny and bright) there will be six more weeks of winter, but if he fails to see his shadow (because the weather is cloudy) then winter will be short.

English-speaking people had a similar belief, as seen in this old rhyme:

If Candlemas be fair and bright
Winter will have another flight
If Candlemas be cloud and rain
Winter will be gone and not come again.

Although many towns have their own rodent weathermen, the most famous groundhog weather prognosticator in the United States is Punxsutawny Phil, of Punxsutawny, Pennsylvania.  This year he says they will have a short winter. As soon as the big blizzard is over, I guess. I don’t know how Phil became the best known of all groundhogs, but it might be because “Punxsutawny” is just so much fun to say.

Posted by Nancy