All eyes on the groundhogs today despite their poor track record

first_imgFor winter-weary Canadians, today is the day when a pair of celebrity rodents are called upon to offer a sign that spring-like weather is just around the corner — or not.The two, pug-nosed critters — Shubenacadie Sam in Nova Scotia and Wiarton Willie in Ontario — will be roused from their shelters just after dawn to take part in Groundhog Day. Pennsylvania’s Punxsutawney Phil will also make an appearance with his top-hatted handlers at Gobbler’s Knob, a tiny hill just outside of Punxsutawney, Pa., about 100 kilometres northeast of Pittsburgh.Folklore has it that if a groundhog sees its shadow on Feb. 2, it will retreat into its burrow, heralding six more weeks of cold weather — not bad by most Canadian standards.However, spring-like temperatures are thought to be on the way if there is no shadow to be seen.The centuries-old tradition has something to do with Feb. 2 landing midway between winter solstice and spring equinox, but no one knows for sure.Some say it started with Candlemas, a Christian custom in February named for the blessing of candles during the Feast of the Purification of the Virgin Mary.Other sources trace its origins to medieval Europe, where farmers watched for hedgehogs emerging to catch insects — a sign that the land was warming up.One Scottish couplet succinctly summed up the superstitions of the time: “If Candlemas Day is bright and clear, There’ll be two winters in the year.”When Europeans settled in North America, they looked to the groundhog for their spring predictions.However, groundhogs are not native to British Columbia, where the role of four-legged forecaster has been handed to a Vancouver Island marmot named Violet.The experts say the odd ritual has a terrible record when it comes to predicting the weather.In his book, “The Day Niagara Falls Ran Dry,” climatologist David Phillips cites a survey of 40 years of weather data from 13 Canadian cities, which concluded there was an equal number of cloudy and sunny days on Feb. 2.During that time, the groundhogs’ predictions were right only 37 per cent of the time.“Given that 33 per cent accuracy can occur by chance, a score of 37 per cent is nothing to boast about,” Phillips says.The Canadian Presslast_img read more