New Brunswick

Oromocto Ollie predicts early spring

A crowd gathered at CFB Gagetown Wednesday morning to begin a new Groundhog Day tradition as curious weather watchers waited for Oromocto Ollie to make its first weather prediction.

N.B.'s weather-forecasting groundhog makes first prediction

A crowd gathered at CFB Gagetown Wednesday morning to begin a new Groundhog Day tradition as curious weather watchers waited for Oromocto Ollie to make its first weather prediction.

For the first time, the Provincial Capital Commission, which is a New Brunswick government agency, has its own weather forecasting rodent to match up against the likes of Shubenacadie Sam, Wiarton Willie and Punxsutawney Phil.

The groundhog decided not to come out to see the weather, or the crowd of onlookers.

Chief Warrant Officer David Hutchinson, an air force meteorologist, said he consulted with his weather-predicting colleague via a camera probe. He said the groundhog made the call: early spring.

"So we knew that the clouds were coming in and it was going to be an overcast day," Hutchison said.

Canadian Forces Base Gagetown is the official home of Oromocto Ollie, New Brunswick's weather-forecasting groundhog. ((CBC))
CFB Gagetown was picked to be the official residence of the weather-forecasting rodent because the large training base has many groundhogs. However, the military has tried to avoid bothering the animals. The base even has a Groundhog Crossing sign.

Deanna McCullum, a range biologist at CFB Gagetown, said not disturbing the groundhog was the object of the military operation.

"We didn't want to disturb them. We wanted to leave them. Let it be a natural thing. And we also didn't want to have any groundhog in captivity," she said.

The tradition of watching groundhogs for a glimpse of how long winter will last was started by German settlers in Punxsutawney, Pa., in 1887. Those settlers caused the rise to rodent punditry of Punxsutawney Phil.

Groundhog watching came to Canada in 1956 with Wiarton Willie, in Wiarton, Ont.

'Fairly harmless' tradition

Graham Forbes, a biologist at the University of New Brunswick, said groundhogs typically hibernate from November to March and they are often found 2.5 metres underground below the frost line.

Forbes said, however, the reliability of these weather forecasting rodents is not that great.

"It's fairly harmless. Generally, they use captive animals and ,,, they pop out of the hat into the cage. But to expect a real, wild groundhog to be active this time of the year is expecting too much," Forbes said.

Scientific studies have shown groundhogs are accurate only 37 per cent of the time

Oromocto Ollie joins a long list of weather forecasting groundhogs, including Nova Scotia's Schubenacadie Sam,  Gary the Groundhog in Ontario, Brandon Bob in Manitoba and Balzac Billy in Alberta.

now