Groundhog Day prophecies mixed on spring's arrival

Nova Scotia groundhog Shubenacadie Sam and Ontario's Wiarton Willy are predicting an early spring after emerging from hibernation without seeing their shadows. But their American counterpart disagrees.

Will an unseasonably warm season usher in spring early?

Ontario's Wiarton Willie and Nova Scotia's prognosticating rodent Shubenacadie Sam failed to see their shadows on Thursday morning.

However, the predictions by the Canadian groundhogs are at odds with Pennsylvania's Punxsutawney Phil, who is calling for six more weeks of winter.

The forecasts come in the middle of an unusually mild winter that has taken even seasoned meteorologists by surprise.

Environment Canada warned this fall to expect colder-than-normal temperatures in the north and west.

But the past few months have brought balmy weather peppered with a few cold snaps in most of the country.

Last year, several of the groundhogs — including Willie — predicted an early spring while a raging snowstorm battered Ontario.

Folklore has it that if a groundhog sees his shadow on Groundhog Day he'll flee to his burrow, heralding six more weeks of winter, and if he doesn't, it means spring's around the corner.

About 150 people cheered Sam's forecast on an overcast day at Shubenacadie Wildlife Park shortly after dawn.

"I don't think we are going to have balmy spring weather tomorrow, but there is a light at the end of the tunnel," said Susan Penney, a station co-ordinator at the park, about 60 kilometres north of Halifax.

No shadow for Willie

In Wiarton, a crowd in the hundreds, some dressed as groundhogs, waited as Mayor John Close listened to Willie's prediction.

Close's announcement of "hello summer, it's an early spring," drew wild cheers after Willie failed to see his shadow.

Sue Allison, 64, and her two friends donned blue and white faux fur hats — complete with ears — and groundhog masks to hear Willie's prognostication.

The group has come out for the event for 10 years, and dressing up is part of the tradition, Allison said, clutching a stuffed toy groundhog.

"I'm very happy — I don't think I want any more of this," Allison said, though she admitted the weather "could be worse."

Mac McKenzie, who started the Wiarton Willie tradition more than half a century ago, said the festival has helped put the southwestern Ontario community on the map.


What day would you live over and over again? Have your Groundhog Day say.

"When we first had it, we had only 12 people, that's all there was," McKenzie said.

In the United States, Pennsylvania's Punxsutawney Phil emerged from his lair to "see" his shadow on Thursday, predicting six more weeks of winter.

The groundhog made his "prediction" to loud boos on Gobbler's Knob, a tiny hill in the town for which he's named about 100 kilometres northeast of Pittsburgh.

Temperatures were near freezing when he emerged at dawn, which is unseasonably warm for the area.

Unusual winter

CBC meteorologist Johanna Wagstaffe commented that her research suggests groundhogs are only about 33 per cent accurate in their predictions, but weather forecasters enjoy Feb. 2 as a holiday from work, as their jobs are "turned over to the rodents for a day."

Unseasonably warm temperatures from coast to coast have made winter a non-event for most Canadians, weather experts say, adding the unusual conditions have stymied their prognostications for months.

"The one thing uniting all Canadians right now is the question of 'where's winter?' We're almost sending a search party looking for it," said Environment Canada senior climatologist David Phillips.

"Even in the Arctic we're seeing examples of a winter that has not behaved normally the way it should be."

Phillips said temperatures in Ontario have been consistently 3.5 degrees above normal for this time of year, while balmy breezes and recent rainfalls have washed away all traces of the season's sparse snowfalls.

It's been even warmer on the Prairies, with temperatures averaging 5.5 to seven degrees warmer than usual, he added.

Meteorologists say typical signs of winter have been wiped out by an "arctic oscillation," a phenomenon that's seen the constantly moving jet stream remain relatively stationary and keep winter conditions at bay.

With files from CBC News