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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 groundhog emerges and sees his shadow, the United States can expect six more weeks of winter weather 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, we’ve compared U.S. national temperatures with Phil’s forecasts. On average, Phil has gotten it right 40% of the time over the past 10 years.

Phil’s 2015 Forecast

In 2015, Phil missed the mark when he predicted six more weeks of winter. The contiguous United States saw only slightly below average temperatures last February. The western half of the Lower 48 was warmer than average, with eight states having a top 10 warm February. However, locations from the Mississippi River to the East Coast were colder than average, with 23 states having a top 10 coldest February.

In March 2015, the contiguous United States saw above average temperatures. Fifteen states across the Southeast, Northern Plains, and West had a March temperature that was much above average. However, five states in New England had a March temperature that was much below average.

Phil’s First Forecast

In 1887, when he made his debut as the official groundhog forecaster for the entire country, Phil saw his shadow. His prediction of six more weeks of winter was accurate for a few regions, but it came up short for several others.

According to the February 1887 Monthly Weather Review Form, the Northeast, Great Lakes region, and West saw temperatures well below normal. 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. Areas west of the Mississippi River valley saw temperatures above normal.

Predicting the Arrival of Spring Is Difficult

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, check out our infographic.

Groundhog Day 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.