A Brief History of Punxsutawney Phil
For the last 133 years, people in the US and Canada have been ignoring the forecast on February 2nd and instead using a rodent to predict the weather. That rodent happens to be a groundhog named Punxsutawney Phil. With Groundhog Day 2020 coming up, let’s brush up on our groundhog facts!
Punxsutawney Phil after making his weather prediction. Photo by Alessandro M.
Groundhogs in Their Natural Habitat
Groundhogs are known to hibernate for the winter so when they decide to come out of their burrow, it tends to be a natural sign of Spring.
The burrows this creature makes have impacts beyond protecting the individual groundhog. When a groundhog digs its multi-chambered burrow, it moves nearly 700 pounds of dirt and rocks which mixes the different soil layers. Burrows can measure 65-feet long and have plenty of room to shelter other creatures while the groundhog sleeps away the winter.
Groundhogs are mostly solitary animals and prefer to be alone. That means there are far more burrows than we realize, and each burrow only has one groundhog in it.
The Groundhog Day celebration in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania. Photo by Jason Cohn
The History of Groundhog Day
Germans who migrated to Pennsylvania during the 1800s brought a European tradition of watching hedgehogs on Candlemas Day, February 2nd. Hedgehogs hibernate, just like groundhogs, and people would watch how they behaved during a brief break in their slumber to predict spring’s arrival. Because there were no hedgehogs in Pennsylvania, but groundhogs were so abundant, they became the North American harbinger of spring.
In the late 1800s a group of friends went into the woods of Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania to look for groundhogs, beginning a local tradition that has grown over time to become an annual celebration. People travel from all over to learn in person whether Punxsutawney Phil will see his shadow and predict six more weeks of winter, or whether there will be an early spring.
Punxsutawney Phil’s Fame
Punxsutawney Phil now lives in a climate-controlled habitat that connects to the Punxsutawney Library where he is a local celebrity. Phil gained national fame in 1993 when the movie Groundhog Day came out. Phil’s weather predictions are even recorded in the Congressional Records of our National Archive! He’s known to have seen his shadow 85% of the time, meaning we receive 6 more weeks of Winter. Do you think Punxsutawney Phil will see his shadow this Groundhog Day?
Make A Human Sundial
Since Groundhog Day is all about shadows, let’s learn how shadows are made and how they’re influenced by the earth’s rotation. By creating a human sundial, you’ll be able to track your shadow throughout the day and see how the sun changes it.
What You’ll Need
• An open space with nothing creating shadows. We recommend a driveway or parking lot.
• Sidewalk Chalk
• A Camera
• A journal to record your observations
This activity works best on a sunny day with no clouds or rain. Wait for a nice day then find an open area with cement or asphalt where the sun shines throughout the day.
Place an X on the ground where you will stand each time your shadow is being traced. Have your parent or a friend trace your shadow. After they finish tracing, have them take a photo. Make sure to record the time you traced your shadow in your journal. Do this 3-5 times throughout the day.
Observe the different outlines of your shadow and how they correspond with the time of day they were traced. What differences do you see in your shadows based on the time of day? What direction did your shadow move? At what time of day was your shadow the longest and the shortest?
Phil’s full name is Punxsutawney Phil, Seer of Seers, Sage of Sages, Prognosticator of Prognosticators and Weather Prophet Extraordinary.
Blog post by Megan Jones.