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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, 1887–2016, Courtesy of Punxsutawney Groundhog Club
Saw Shadow No Shadow No Record
102 18 10
More Winter End of Winter ---

Punxsutawney Phil Versus the U.S. National Temperature 1988–2016

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 12 times in February and 15 times in March, below normal 6 times in February and 2 times in March, and near normal 6 times in February and 7 times in March.

Year Shadow February Temperature Departure March Temperature Departure
2016 No Above Above
2015 Yes Slightly Below Above
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 2016

In 2016, the contiguous United States (CONUS) average temperature was 54.9°F, 2.9°F above the 20th century average. This was the second warmest year for the CONUS, behind 2012 when the annual average temperature was 55.3°F. This marks the 20th consecutive year that the annual average temperature for the CONUS was above the 20th century average. The last year with a below-average temperature was 1996. Since 1895, the CONUS has observed an average temperature increase of 0.15°F per decade.

The February temperature for the contiguous U.S. was 39.5°F, 5.7°F above the 20th century average, ranking as the seventh warmest on record and warmest since 2000.

Above-average February temperatures were widespread across Alaska and the western half of the contiguous U.S. as well as parts of the Midwest and Northeast, where 21 states were much warmer than average. Alaska had its warmest February on record with a statewide temperature of 17.2°F, 12.4°F above average. Near-average February temperatures were observed across the Southeast.

The March temperature for the contiguous U.S. was 47.5°F, or 6.0°F above the 20th century average. This was the fourth warmest March in the 122-year period of record for the Lower 48 and warmest since 2012.

Every state in the contiguous U.S. had an above-average March temperature. Temperatures were much warmer than average across parts of the Rocky Mountains, Central and Northern Plains, Midwest, and along the East Coast. No state had a record warm March.

Take a look at the February and March 2016 statewide temperature ranks maps, which give a pretty good idea of the distribution of temperatures across the United States.

February 2016 U.S. Statewide Temperature Ranks Map        March 2016 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.