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Shadowless groundhog predicts early end to winter

AFP-JIJI

Spring is around the corner, according to America’s most celebrated groundhog.

In an annual ritual with early roots in German folklore, a Pennsylvania groundhog named Punxsutawney Phil was interpreted Saturday as predicting an early end to winter.

According to his handlers at the ceremony in the town of Punxsutawney, Phil was brought out of his burrow and did not see his shadow, meaning he was not scared back into his burrow and so the seasonal shift is in the offing. Had he seen his shadow, winter would have gone on another six weeks.

“And so ye faithful, there is no shadow to see. An early Spring for you and me,” Phil announced on www.groundhog.org.

Last year, Phil was said to have seen his shadow and predicted a long winter — a verdict that caused some controversy among groundhog and weather cognoscenti, given that at the time it felt practically like spring already.

The groundhog — one of a long line of ancestors and look-alikes bearing the same name — is a national media star and was at the center of the 1993 Bill Murray comedy “Groundhog Day.”

Groundhog Day falls each year on Feb. 2, attracting large crowds to the little Pennsylvania town. It started with a German tradition in which farmers monitored the animal’s behavior closely to make decisions about when their fields should be planted.

Punxsutawney, which claims to have held its first Groundhog Day way back in the 1800s, is the undisputed headquarters for the unscientific experiment.

But several wannabe groundhog prognosticators hold sway in other parts of the United States, notably in New York City, and also in Washington, albeit with a stuffed Potomac Phil.

The New York rival, Staten Island Chuck, agreed with Phil, also missing his shadow Saturday.

Down in the Southern state of Georgia, the news was not so welcome. Gen. Beauregard Lee, a groundhog said by his fans to know the weather across the Southeast, called for six more weeks of winter.