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Forget local woodchucks’ weather predictions — pomp and pageantry have led people across the nation to have more faith in a Pennsylvania groundhog’s forecast, according to a recent survey conducted on behalf of a University of Virginia researcher.
Survey results revealed that 53.4% of Americans rely on Pennsylvania’s well-known Punxsutawney Phil as their primary marmot weather predictor, while 46.6% would choose a local groundhog instead.
The survey was conducted by Verasight, a highly reputable survey firm that allowed survey researchers to add one question to a nationwide survey at no cost.
“This result shows that most people across the country have fallen for the national media’s persuasion and failed to appreciate the uniqueness of their own community’s climate,” said Thomas Guterbock, UVA sociology professor emeritus. “Even if they live miles away from Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, they place their trust in the media groundhog.”
Groundhog Day is celebrated on February 2 in the U.S. and Canada. It was brought to America by German immigrants and has similar traditions in Europe and the British Isles, where various animals serve as mock meteorologists.
According to legend, if a groundhog sees its shadow and retreats, six more weeks of winter will follow. But no shadow means an early spring is on the way.
As an exercise for research methods courses, Guterbock often sent undergraduate sociology students out to survey people they knew about Groundhog Day and Punxsutawney Phil. Students surveyed adults they knew, ensuring diverse respondents in terms of age, gender, and ethnicity.
In addition to their knowledge of the tradition, or “groundhog awareness,” the surveys looked at “groundhog priority,” which examines the relative authority of Punxsutawney Phil versus local marmots.
Student-conducted class surveys consistently found the Pennsylvania groundhog to be the preferred authority. In a 2019 student-run survey, 61.2% chose the TV groundhog, while only 38.8% believed the forecasting abilities of their local woodchucks.
It’s understandable why people prefer Punxsutawney Phil. The people of Punxsutawney have worked hard for over a century to create a spectacle of themselves and their groundhog deserving of national media attention. This year’s festival, the 138th, includes a Groundhog Eve talent show, Groundhog Club Members-Only Reception, and the annual Groundhog Banquet.
Held at Gobbler’s Knob, a natural amphitheater outside of town, the official showgrounds open at 3 a.m. on Groundhog Day. Tickets are available for a heated pavilion offering food, coffee, a live feed of the proceedings, private portable restrooms, an official souvenir, and the chance to have a photo taken with the rodent of the hour.