Though it might be sacrilegious to write this for a media outlet with its main editorial office in the UK, I’ve never put much stock in weather predictions. Yet I found myself driving through the night to Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, just to see Phil the groundhog (pictured) predict, at dawn yesterday, whether we’d have six more weeks of winter or spring would come early. I made the trip partly because I grew up loving the Bill Murray movie Groundhog Day and wanted to see the annual tradition for myself. But I was also hoping, “Please let him see a shadow so I can enjoy my upcoming ski trip with plenty of snow.”
Phil is not your average weatherman. He’s the prognosticator of prognosticators, the seer of seers – a status that earned him the right to be inducted into the meteorologists’ Hall of Fame (we have halls of fame for everything here in the US) at the Weather Discovery Center this week in Punxsutawney. This, despite statistics from the National Weather Service showing that he has been right only 39 per cent of the time since the 1880s. Groundhog Day organisers scoff at such figures. Phil is right 100 per cent of the time, they insist.
Phil is big business for this town. His prediction day attracted Pennsylvania’s new governor and muted presidential candidate, Josh Shapiro, among the thousands braving the freezing temperature to celebrate this quirky tradition. As one resident of the town, Dawn, told The Monocle Minute, “There’s the Bible, there’s the flag and then there’s Phil.”
When Phil emerged from his slumber and saw his shadow, the crowd let out a collective groan. And yet, despite Phil’s pessimistic outlook on the next six weeks, I found myself appreciating the value of such community events. These days, it feels as though we’re fighting each other at every turn. I’m glad that there’s still one thing that we can complain about together: the weather.
Christopher Cermak is Monocle’s Washington correspondent.