Punxsutawney Phil predicts a longer winter

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PUNXSUTAWNEY, Pa. (AP) — The handlers for groundhog Punxsutawney Phil say he’s forecasting six more weeks of what already has felt like a brutally long and cold winter.

Pennsylvania’s famed groundhog emerged from his lair in front of thousands of fans around daybreak Sunday.

Legend has it that if the furry rodent sees his shadow on Feb. 2, winter will last another month-and-a-half. If he doesn’t see it, spring will come early.

In reality, Phil’s prediction is decided ahead of time by a group called the Inner Circle, whose members don top hats and tuxedos for the annual Groundhog Day ceremony on Gobbler’s Knob, the tiny hill in the town for which he’s named about 65 miles northeast of Pittsburgh.

According to records going back to 1887, Phil has now seen his shadow 101 times while failing to see it 17 times, according to the Inner Circle. There are no records for the remaining years.

This year’s Groundhog Day celebration marks a winter that has brought extreme cold to stretches of the country wholly unaccustomed to it, as well as a snow and ice storm that paralyzed Atlanta and other Southern cities.

Phil is the most famous of a small group of groundhogs said to forecast the weather, including Staten Island Chuck in New York and General Beauregard Lee in Atlanta.

The National Climatic Data Center has put Phil’s forecasts to the test and found them sorely lacking, declaring the groundhog has “no predictive skill.”

“It really isn’t a ‘bright’ idea to take a measure such as a groundhog’s shadow and use it as a predictive meteorological tool for the entire United States,” the data center says on its website, helpfully if somewhat obviously.

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