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Groundhog Day: Why we carry on with the tradition

Wiarton Willie sees his shadow, predicts six more weeks of winter

Depending on which rodent you believe, either it’s six more weeks of winter or an early spring.

But do you really believe?

READ MORE: Shubenacadie Sam doesn’t see shadow, predicts an early spring

“I don’t think that Canadians really believe there is any wisdom or skill in the groundhog forecasting,” said David Phillips, senior climatologist with Environment Canada.

And he should know: forecasting the weather for seven days is a difficult job, let alone for six weeks.

“I don’t envy him,” he said.

WATCH: Groundhog Day predictions contradictory

The myth of the groundhog’s ability to forecast winter dates back centuries. It’s linked to the early days of Christianity in Europe. On Candlemas Day (Feb. 2), if clear skies prevailed, it meant cold weather ahead. The tradition then changed in Germany where the weather forecasting was linked to the hedgehog which, if it saw its shadow, would mean snow into May.

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The tradition made its way to the New World when German immigrants settled in Pennsylvania and, more than a hundred years later, here we are.

Punxsutawney Phil’s predictions

Data curated by FindTheData

Now, we all know that a rodent’s prognostication about winter is anything rooted in solid science. So why do we continue to greet February 2 with such fanfare, sticking cameras in the faces of a groundhog who is probably quite disturbed by all the attention?

READ MORE: Canadian groundhogs issue clashing weather predictions

“You don’t always get hope from the meteorologists or weather presenters,” Phillips said. “We need these crutches in a country that’s the second coldest in the world and the snowiest in the world. I think it’s kind of fun. It’s a moment of celebration and it gets your mind off the winter.”

“But I think it’s a lot of ground hogwash,” Phillips said laughing.

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Phillips said that spring-like weather in Canada has never just improved from February 3 onward, no matter what a groundhog has predicted, even in the mildest of winters. Winter in Canada is a just a harsh reality: it’s usually snowy and cold until March. We just need to accept that.

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Still, Phillips said that even in 20 years’ time, when forecasting gets even better, we’ll likely turn to the groundhog, simply for the tradition. “People will always gravitate to those smelly rodents.”

But here’s the thing: if a groundhog comes out of its burrow, it’s not looking for its shadow. It’s looking for a female. That’s right: we’ve been watching a groundhog’s dating habits.