The History of Groundhog Day

Groundhog Day is the mid-point between the start of Winter and Spring

Groundhog Day is a day where the Weather Authority can get a day off…kind of.

But what does this quasi–holiday or weatherman’s worst nightmare actually mean?

Most people think of February 2nd as the day Punxsutawney Phil peeks his head out of a hole in rural Pennsylvania, but what is it really?

“Groundhog Day is a cross–quarter day because it is that midpoint between the winter solstice and the vernal equinox”, says Daryl Ritchison, the Interim Director of the North Dakota Agricultural Weather Network.

The concept of celebrating cross–quarter days goes back thousands of years to Germanic traditions.

Also referenced as Candlemas day, it occurs 40 days after Christmas and that’s when the Northern Europeans used to forecast the winter by noticing the local badger.

“The badger might have come out of its den for the first time. If it was cloudy, he would stick around and feed. If it was clear and cold, he’d go back to sleep,” explains Ritchison.

But the German settlers in western Pennsylvania couldn’t find a badger, so they used a local rodent, whom they called, a groundhog.

If the groundhog saw his shadow on that clear and cold day, the settlers would have six more weeks of winter, if not, it would be an early spring.

Different than Pennsylvania, the upper Midwest doesn’t have a groundhog, but there are prairie dogs and hedgehogs native to the region.

“They’re actually in torpor right now which is kind of a hibernation, their body’s metabolism slows down. They’re underneath the ground resting waiting for spring to start,” says Bryan Vasquez, the Director of Conservation and Education at the Red River Zoo.

Hedgehogs aren’t as used to colder weather like groundhogs and prairie dogs, but they still can help us try to forecast the weather.

And on Groundhog Day, we’re going to find out if the groundhog, or Spartacus the hedgehog, is going to see his shadow and give us either a longer winter or an early spring.

Categories: Morning – Features, Weather Blog