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Groundhog Day Forecasts and Climate History

Photo of a groundhog

Every February 2, a crowd of thousands gathers at Gobbler’s Knob in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, to await a special forecast from a groundhog named Phil. If the 20-pound, 22-inch-tall groundhog emerges from his simulated tree trunk and sees his shadow, we’re in for six more weeks of winter weather in the United States according to legend. But, if Phil doesn’t see his shadow, we can expect warmer temperatures and the arrival of an early spring.

Even though he’s been forecasting since 1887, Phil’s track record for the entire country isn’t perfect. To determine just how accurate he is, NCDC has compared U.S. national temperatures from 1988 to 2014 with Phil’s forecasts. On average, Phil has gotten it right less than 45% of the time over the past 27 years. But, in, 2014, Phil’s prediction for six more weeks of winter was pretty much spot on as the contiguous United States saw below average February temperatures and slightly below average March temperatures.

When he made his debut as the official groundhog forecaster for the entire country on February 2, 1887, Phil saw his shadow and predicted six more weeks of winter weather. According to the February 1887 Monthly Weather Review Form, the Northeast, Great Lakes region, and West saw temperatures well below normal while the Southeast and Gulf states saw temperatures well above normal during the month. And, according to the March 1887 Monthly Weather Review Form, the Northeast, Great Lakes region, Ohio Valley, and Southeast saw temperatures well below normal while areas west of the Mississippi River valley saw temperatures above normal.

Predicting the arrival of spring for an entire country, especially one with such varied regional climates as the United States, isn’t easy! To learn more about how Punxsutawney Phil’s forecasts have compared to U.S. national temperatures since 1988, visit our Groundhog Day page.

Interested in doing your own analysis? Check out our Climate at a Glance tool to access historical U.S. monthly temperature data. More of Phil’s past predictions are also available from the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club.

For an overview of some fun facts about Groundhog Day and the accuracy of these furry forecasters, download our infographic.

To see the latest climate outlooks, visit NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center. For the current weather forecast in your area, check out your local National Weather Service forecast office.