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Weather-predicting critters make headlines

Staff Report • Feb 4, 2013 at 10:29 AM

Many Americans will be tuning in this morning to learn if Punxsutawney Phil — Pennsylvania’s famous weather-forecasting groundhog — sees his shadow. If Punxsutawney Phil (or any other groundhog) sees his shadow today, that is said to mean six more weeks of winter. On the other hand, a groundhog who casts no shadow is seen as a sign that spring is just around the corner.

Since Groundhog Day is set exactly six calendar weeks before the vernal equinox, it’s easy to spot the humor involved with this tradition. Nonetheless, true believers say groundhogs are right 75 percent of the time.

As we mentioned in this space before, some in our region put their faith in a more trustworthy means of predicting the weather — woolly worms. Folklore tells us that a harsh winter is to come if woolly worms are seen in the fall to be plentiful, slow-moving and have thick coats with wide black bands.

Groundhogs, however, continue to grab all the headlines for their weather predictions. And a groundhog had a key role in movie that has become a favorite at this time of the year. (Meanwhile, Hollywood has never cast a single woolly worm in a talking picture.)

In the 1993 movie comedy, “Groundhog Day,” Bill Murray plays Phil Connors, a self-absorbed TV weatherman who wakes each day to find he is stuck on Feb. 2. No matter how hard he tries to change the calendar — whether by doing good deeds for others or even taking his own life — he is forced to relive Groundhog Day over and over again.

(And you, too, can relive “Groundhog Day” — the movie, that is — over and over today. An all-day marathon of the flick is being shown on cable’s AMC.)

Each day for Connors begins the same as the previous. He awakens to the sound of Sonny and Cher’s “I Got You Babe” playing on the clock radio. He dresses and heads to the center of town where Punxsutawney Phil emerges to see his own shadow.

Finally, Connors accepts his fate and tells his audience at one taping of the groundhog’s emergence: “When Chekhov saw the long winter, he saw a winter bleak and dark and bereft of hope. Yet we know that winter is just another step in the cycle of life. But standing here among the people of Punxsutawney and basking in the warmth of their hearths and hearts, I couldn’t imagine a better fate than a long and lustrous winter.”

With all due respect to Chekhov (the Russian writer, not Chekov the “Star Trek” character) and Bill Murray, we are hoping for an early spring.

Regardless of what Punxsutawney Phil, or the woolly worms predict, the calendar says spring will officially arrive March 20.

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