Here in Arizona Ground Hog Day doesn’t have quite the same meaning as it does elsewhere. While other parts of the country might only be halfway through their long winter season, February marks the shift into warmer Arizona temperatures. As we pack up our sweaters and sweatshirts, we keep our fingers crossed that spring was last, and the inevitable triple digit temperatures will wait as long as possible to arrive.
Snow and ice are not typically an issue here in the desert. While the winter months of December and January can get chilly, daytime temperatures still manage to reach into the 70’s on most days. We welcome the few good winter rainstorms that water our dry desert plants, but the bright Arizona sunshine doesn’t stay away for long.
I decided to do a little research into the origins and traditions of Groundhog Day and here is what I found:
According to the legend, the Groundhog comes out of his hole after a long winter sleep to look for his shadow. If he sees it, he regards it as an omen of six more weeks of bad weather and returns to his hole. If the day is cloudy and, he doesn’t see his shadow, he takes it as a sign of spring and stays above ground.
Pennsylvania's Punxsutawney Phil, the world’s most famous groundhog, will emerge on February 2nd to the delight of thousands. Why do we turn to these furry rodents for weather predictions? Well it has a lot more to do with the date than it does with Phil himself. Falling midway between the winter solstice and the spring equinox, February 2 is a significant day in several ancient and modern traditions. The tradition dates back to 1887, and it is said to have originated from ancient European lore in which a badger or sacred bear predicts the weather. Ground Hog Day may also have religious origins, as it shares similarities with Candlemas Day, which is also on Feb. 2. According to an old English song, "If Candlemas be fair and bright, Come, Winter, have another flight."
As the rest of the nation waits anxiously to find out if that little groundhog manages to see his shadow or not, here in Arizona we know our winter is rapidly coming to a close. Without a doubt, the blizzard weary families in New England are hoping for a cloudy day, so that the ground hog will stay above ground, but even a lack of a shadow will not warm up the frigid temperatures that most New Englanders take in stride.
The National Climatic Data Center reportedly stated that Phil's predictions have been correct 39% of the time. In the years following the 1993 release of Groundhog Day, starring Bill Murray, crowds numbering as high as 30,000 have visited Gobbler's Knob, a tiny hill in Punxsutawney where the ceremony takes place.
This fun, old fashioned tradition has definitely adapted to the times. Punxsutawney Phil can now text you his Tuesday weather prediction. Just text "Groundhog" to 247365 on Groundhog Day.
Happy Ground Hog Day everyone!