Punxsutawney Phil started making predictions in 1887 and has become an American institution. More than 35,000 visitors pour into Gobblers Knob in Jefferson County, Penn. for the annual celebration centered around a groundhog.
When German settlers arrived in the new world in the 1700s, they brought a tradition known as Candlemas Day; the precursor to today's Groundhog Day.
Candlemas came at the mid-point between the Winter Solstice and the Spring Equinox. Superstition said that if the weather was fair, the second half of winter would be stormy and cold.
The earliest American reference to Groundhog Day can be found at the Pennsylvania Dutch Folklore Center at Franklin and Marshall College:
February 4, 1841 - from Morgantown, Berks County (Pennsylvania) storekeeper James Morris' diary..."Last Tuesday, the 2nd, was Candlemas day, the day on which, according to the Germans, the Groundhog peeps out of his winter quarters and if he sees his shadow he pops back for another six weeks nap, but if the day be cloudy he remains out, as the weather is to be moderate."
If the sun made an appearance on Candlemas Day, an animal would cast a shadow, thus predicting six more weeks of winter. Germans watched a badger for the shadow. In Pennsylvania, the groundhog, upon waking from mid-Winter hibernation, was selected as the replacement.
Pennsylvania's official celebration of Groundhog Day began on Feb. 2, 1886 with a proclamation in The Punxsutawney Spirit: "Today is groundhog day and up to the time of going to press the beast has not seen its shadow."
The groundhog was given the name "Punxsutawney Phil, Seer of Seers, Sage of Sages, Prognosticator of Prognosticators, and Weather Prophet Extraordinary'' and his hometown thus called the "Weather Capital of the World.'' In his debut performance, he saw no shadow, hence an early spring.
The groundhog, also known as a woodchuck (Marmota monax), is a member of the squirrel family. Groundhogs in the wild eat succulent green plants, such as dandelion, clover and grasses.
According to handlers John Griffiths and Ben Hughes, Phil weighs 15 pounds and thrives on dog food and ice cream in his climate-controlled home at the Punxsutawney Library.
Up on Gobbler's Knob, Phil is placed in a heated burrow underneath a simulated tree stump on stage before being pulled out at 7:25 a.m. to make his prediction. If Punxsutawney Phil sees his shadow, it means six more weeks of winter. If he does not see his shadow, it means spring is just around the corner.
Approximately 90 percent of the time, Phil sees his shadow.
Catch all of the show at Gobblers Knob on Groundhog Day this year as Punxsutawney Phil and the Inner Circle of the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club predict the end to winter weather presented by the Pennsylvania Visitors Bureau at www.visitPA.com/groundhog.