3 out of 4 forecasting groundhogs agree: spring is near

Fred la Marmotte made his prediction in Val-d'Espoir, Que., on the eastern edge of the Gaspé Peninsula, early Sunday morning, at which time he did not see his shadow.

Quebec's Fred la Marmotte sides with the majority

The new Fred la Marmotte made his first prediction this year. The previous Fred has retired. (CBC)

In the opinion of Quebec's designated oracle groundhog, Fred la Marmotte, spring is around the corner.

Fred made his prediction in Val-d'Espoir, Que., on the eastern edge of the Gaspé Peninsula, at a ceremony that began 6:30 a.m. Sunday. He did not see his shadow.

This Fred is still new to predicting — organizers call him "Fred Junior." The previous Fred has retired, officials say.

In Nova Scotia, we are told that Shubenacadie Sam saw his shadow and is predicting six more weeks of winter. Sam had to cancel his public events because of a winter storm in the forecast. But Sam (or more likely a representative) tweeted "Who could have called this, it has cleared after the storm allowing for a shadow!"

Groundhog Club co-handler Al Dereume holds Punxsutawney Phil, the weather prognosticating groundhog, on Gobbler's Knob on Sunday. (Barry Reeger/The Associated Press)

It is unclear whether groundhog predictions apply within specific state boundaries or, say, inside a fixed radius. But those Montrealers who trust the advice of the most geographically proximate groundhog will want to know that Ontario's Wiarton Willie sided with Fred la Marmotte this morning, predicting an early spring.

Pennsylvania's Punxsutawney Phil also made an appearance this morning with his top-hatted handlers before a huge crowd at Gobbler's Knob, and, like Fred and Willie, predicted an early spring.

(Val-d'Espoir and Shubenacadie are both just under 800 kilometres from Montreal; Wiarton, Ont., is 600 kilometres away. Punxsutawney is 675 kilometres south.)

An ancient ritual

The Groundhog Day ritual may have something to do with Feb. 2 landing midway between winter solstice and spring equinox, but no one knows for sure.

Some say the tradition can be traced to Greek mythology, or it could have started with Candlemas, a Christian custom named for the lighting of candles during the feast of the Purification of the Virgin Mary.

One Scottish couplet summed up the superstition: "If Candlemas Day is bright and clear, there'll be two winters in the year."

In medieval Europe, farmers believed that if hedgehogs emerged from their burrows to catch insects, that was a sure sign of an early spring.

However, when Europeans settled in eastern North America, the groundhog was substituted for the hedgehog.

On the West Coast, they now call on marmots like Van Island Violet. Like groundhogs, marmots are a type of large ground squirrel.

In general, rodents don't have a great track record when it comes to long-term forecasting.

In his book, "The Day Niagara Falls Ran Dry," climatologist David Phillips cites a survey of 40 years of weather data from 13 Canadian cities, which concluded there was an equal number of cloudy and sunny days on Feb. 2.

During that time, the groundhogs' predictions were right only 37 per cent of the time.

With files from Steve Rukavina and The Canadian Press


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