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As a collective we fervently believe this: a groundhog, also known as a woodchuck, will tell us how many weeks are left until spring.
Groundhog Day 2017 Verdict: Early spring

Groundhog Day still matters, so put your grievances aside

Sonya Bell
Special to The Weather Network

Thursday, February 2, 2017, 8:21 AM - It carries all the pomp and circumstance of a royal birth. The town crier with his scroll. The welcome bellowed out in rhyme. But the outcome thousands of people are waiting in the Canadian cold to see isn’t Princess Charlotte. It’s someone with far more power and influence.

No one said it was easy to carry the weight of a city’s hopes and dreams for spring on furry, little shoulders.

February is a time when strange decisions are on display (read: removing important web pages). It probably has something to do with the lack of fresh air we get when spending Saturdays indoors, under a duvet, wrapped in a blanket, like a sad and human turducken.

But Groundhog Day is not some flu-induced hallucination. Its origins go back to medieval Europe – be thankful it was this tradition that made it across the Atlantic and not the torture techniques. The first recorded mention of Groundhog Day in North America comes from a shopkeeper’s diary in 1841, a mere 175 years ago. That means Groundhog Day has seen Canadians through two world wars, one Great Depression and all 11 seasons of the Kardashians.

Despite this staying power, some people question whether a rodent can accurately predict the weather. Most cite items like “science” and “historical records” as evidence that groundhogs have no idea when spring is coming. In scientific terms, these people are called party-poopers.

Onlookers call out to him.

“Wake up, Willie! Wake up, Willie! Wake up, Willie!”

On February 2, we don’t know if the dollar will be down or really far down. But as a collective we fervently believe this: a groundhog, also known as a woodchuck, will tell us how many weeks are left until spring.

The forecast for the 2016-17 winter is what meteorologists do, and do well – despite the fact in some places it still hasn’t arrived. But for one day, that’s exactly what we ask of Wiarton Willie and Pennsylvania’s Punxsutawney Phil, Nova Scotia’s Shubenacadie Sam and Staten Island’s Chuck in New York. But before we go any farther, let’s take a minute to reflect on Winnipeg Willow, who sadly passed away last year, just days ahead of the big day.

Consider: Research by the University of Scranton shows that New Year’s resolutions only come true eight per cent of the time, and yet every January we still believe in them.

The truth is, in the depths of winter, Canadians need to believe in something. Sure, the groundhog is basically a beaver that can’t swim. But at least groundhogs didn’t sell out to Roots.

It’s not like there’s a better holiday to celebrate in February. Nobody knows what to do with the hybrid long weekend of Family Day and Valentine’s. “Here you go my love, it’s lingerie that says: 'World’s Best Mom!'”

The great thing about Groundhog Day is there are so many ways to celebrate it. For meteorologists, it’s a well-earned day of deflecting attention. For celebrity Bill Murray, it’s a means to salvation. For groundhogs, it’s likely the only day of the year when they’re guaranteed to own the local watering hole.

If you’re looking for numbers to back up the predictive powers of groundhogs, try this one: 40,000 people come out for Punxsutawney Phil’s party every February 2nd. Is the promise of a weather prediction any less reasonable than the promises made to lure you to other parties? That you’ll have a good time, won’t eat the entire chip bowl, and will leave at a reasonable hour?

Canadians should count ourselves lucky, being able to stand back and let a rodent decide our seasonal fate. Imagine how much better the world would be if every woodland creature agreed to take on just a bit more responsibility. We could sure all breathe easier if we knew rabbits were monitoring ocean temperatures and foxes were keeping an eye on privacy breaches.

Sure, Wiarton could try to up its game by substituting a smarter animal – perhaps a porpoise. But the minute you bring one of those on stage, PETA comes calling. In these tough economic times, only a truly heartless person would deny groundhogs their one day of work. If anything, after loyally serving us for 175 years, groundhogs deserve a promotion.

And who knows, maybe this February, we let them predict the price of cauliflower.

This article originally ran on Feb. 2, 2016, and has been updated.

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