Groundhogs send mixed signals on arrival of spring

Emerging from the shadows, Sir Walter Wally, one of North Carolina’s weather prognositicating groundhogs, predicted six more weeks of winter after seeing his shadow on Saturday in a Groundhog Day ceremony at the N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences in downtown Raleigh. (Isabelle Lavalette | For The North State Journal)

PUNXSUTAWNEY, Pa. and RALEIGH — It may be hard to believe as a large swath of the U.S. thaws out from a bitter polar vortex, but spring is coming early, according to handlers for some of the country’s most famous prognosticating groundhogs.

Just before 7:30 a.m. Saturday, Punxsutawney Phil emerged from his burrow in Pennsylvania at sunrise and didn’t see his shadow. Nearly the same series of events unfolded about 300 miles to the east, where Staten Island Chuck’s handlers also revealed the same prediction.

The festivities have their origin in a German legend that says if a furry rodent casts a shadow on Feb. 2, winter continues. If not, spring comes early.

In reality, Phil’s prediction is decided ahead of time by the group on Gobbler’s Knob, a tiny hill just outside Punxsutawney. That’s about 65 miles (105 kilometers) northeast of Pittsburgh.

In Raleigh, Sir Walter Wally, Raleigh’s official groundhog, saw his shadow, predicting that the city will have six more weeks of winter.

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Punxsutawney Phil’s prediction was wrong last year, and he has been wrong about 40 percent of the time. Wally has been correct in his prediction more than 50 percent of the time, according to the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences.