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Groundhog Day

Cartoon groundhog

Every February 2, thousands gather at Gobbler’s Knob in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, to await the spring forecast from a special groundhog. Known as Punxsutawney Phil, this groundhog will emerge from his simulated tree trunk home and look for his shadow, which will help him make his much-anticipated forecast. According to legend, if Phil sees his shadow the United States is in store for six more weeks of winter weather. But, if Phil doesn’t see his shadow, the country should expect warmer temperatures and the arrival of an early spring.

History of Groundhog Day

Groundhog Day originates from an ancient celebration of the midway point between the winter solstice and the spring equinox—the day right in the middle of astronomical winter. According to superstition, sunny skies that day signify a stormy and cold second half of winter while cloudy skies indicate the arrival of warm weather.

The trail of Phil’s history leads back to Clymer H. Freas, city editor of the Punxsutawney Spirit newspaper. Inspired by a group of local groundhog hunters—whom he would dub the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club—Freas declared Phil as America’s official forecasting groundhog in 1887. As he continued to embellish the groundhog's story year after year, other newspapers picked it up, and soon everyone looked to Punxsutawney Phil for the prediction of when spring would return to the country.

Historical Track Record of Punxsutawney Phil, 1887–2014, Courtesy of Punxsutawney Groundhog Club
Saw Shadow No Shadow No Record
101 17 9
More Winter End of Winter ---

Punxsutawney Phil Versus the U.S. National Temperature 1988–2014

The table below gives a snapshot, by year since 1988, of whether Phil saw his shadow or not along with the corresponding monthly national average temperature departures for both February and March. The table shows no predictive skill for the groundhog during the most recent years of this analysis. Since 1993, the U.S. national temperature has been above normal 11 times in February and 13 times in March, below normal 6 times in February and 2 times in March, and near normal 5 times in February and 7 times in March.

Year Shadow February Temperature Departure March Temperature Departure
2014 Yes Below Slightly Below
2013 No Slightly Above Slightly Below
2012 Yes Above Above
2011 No Slightly Below Above
2010 Yes Below Above
2009 Yes Above Above
2008 Yes Slightly Above Slightly Above
2007 No Below Above
2006 Yes Above Above
2005 Yes Above Slightly Above
2004 Yes Slightly Below Above
2003 Yes Below Above
2002 Yes Above Below
2001 Yes Slightly Above Slightly Below
2000 Yes Above Above
1999 No Above Above
1998 Yes Above Slightly Below
1997 No Above Above
1996 Yes Above Below
1995 No Above Above
1994 Yes Below Above
1993 Yes Below Slightly Above
1992 Yes Above Above
1991 Yes Above Above
1990 No Above Above
1989 Yes Below Above
1988 No Slightly Below Slightly Above

U.S. Climate Conditions in February and March 2014

In 2014, the contiguous U.S. average temperature was 52.6°F, 0.5°F above the 20th century average, and tying with 1977 as the 34th warmest year in the 120-year period of record. 2014 was slightly warmer than 2013 for the contiguous United States when the annual average temperature was 52.4°F. This marks the 18th consecutive year with an annual average temperature above the 20th century average for the contiguous United States. The last year with a below-average contiguous U.S. temperature was 1996. Since 1895, when national temperature records began, the contiguous United States has observed an average temperature increase of 0.13°F per decade.

The contiguous U.S. February temperature was 32.2°F, 1.6°F below the 20th century average, and the 37th coldest February on record. Below-average February temperatures were observed across much of the northern and central contiguous United States, with the largest departures from normal across the Midwest. Illinois, Iowa, and Wisconsin each had a top 10 cold February, though no state was record cold. The Southwest and Florida were warmer than average. Arizona, California, and Utah each had February temperatures that ranked among the 10 warmest on record, though no state was record warm.

The average temperature for the contiguous United States during March 2014 was 40.5°F, 1.0°F below the 20th century average. This was the 43rd coldest March on record, and the coldest since 2002. Below-average temperatures dominated the eastern half of the contiguous United States during March. The largest departures from average occurred across the Great Lakes and Northeast, where nine states had temperatures that ranked among their 10 coldest on record. The persistent cold resulted in nearly two-thirds of the Great Lakes remaining frozen into early April. Vermont had its coldest March on record, with a statewide temperature of 18.3°F, 8.9°F below average. The previous coldest March in Vermont occurred in 1916 when the monthly average temperature was 18.6°F. Maine and New Hampshire each had their second coldest March on record, while Michigan and New York had their fifth coldest. Massachusetts and Wisconsin had their eighth coldest March, Connecticut its ninth coldest, and Pennsylvania its 10th coldest. Most locations from the Rockies westward had above-average March temperatures. California had its ninth warmest March, with a statewide temperature 4.7°F above average. No state was record warm for March. Across the nation during March, there were five times as many record cold daily maximum and minimum temperatures (5,822) as record warm daily maximum and minimum temperatures (1,149).

Take a look at the February and March 2014 statewide temperature ranks maps, which give a pretty good idea of the distribution of temperatures across the United States.

February 2014 U.S. Statewide Temperature Ranks Map        March 2014 U.S. Statewide Temperature Ranks Map

Interested in doing your own analysis? Check out our Climate at a Glance tool to access historical U.S. monthly temperature data, and Phil’s past predictions, which are available from the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club. More temperature rankings maps, like the ones above, are available on the National Temperature and Precipitation Maps page.

Other Groundhogs Around the United States

While Punxsutawney Phil claims to be the nation’s official forecasting groundhog, he’s not the only furry forecaster in the United States. Some other notable contenders include General Beauregard Lee of Atlanta, GeorgiaSir Walter Wally of Raleigh, North Carolina; and Jimmy of Sun Prairie, Wisconsin.

There are even more groundhog forecasters in the running such as Octorara Orphie of Quarryville, Pennsylvania—competition right next door to Phil—Staten Island Chuck from the Staten Island Zoo, Unadilla who hails from Nebraska, Buckeye Chuck from Ohio, French Creek from West Virginia, and the Cajun Groundhog from Louisiana. Ridge Lea Larry is a "stuffed groundhog" from Western New York, and the Tennessee Groundhog of Silver Point, Tennessee, is actually someone dressed up like a groundhog on a motorcycle.

While Groundhog Day is a way to have a little fun at mid-winter, climate records and statistics tell us that winter probably isn't over. Climatologically speaking, the three coldest months of the year are December, January, and February, so winter typically still has a bit to go when the groundhog comes out in search of his shadow on February 2.

Additional Resources

  • U.S. Monthly, Seasonal, and Annual Climate Reports
    See our monthly, seasonal, and annual climate reports on the Nation's recent climate conditions, their unusualness, as well as the long-term trends for many aspects of the climate system.
  • U.S. Climate Normals
    The 1981–2010 U.S. Climate Normals are the latest 30-year averages of climatological variables including temperature and precipitation.
  • Climate Prediction Center
    For forecasts of short-term climate fluctuations and information on the effects of climate patterns on the nation, visit the Climate Prediction Center.
  • National Weather Service
    For the weather forecast in your area, check out your local National Weather Service forecast office.