Why Do We Use a Groundhog to Forecast the Weather?

Weather is one of the most unpredictable things on the planet, and we can’t affect what happens with it. In fact, the weather and the elements have fascinated humans for years, and many civilizations have studied it and tried to influence it. From the Ancient Babylonians who studied cloud formations to the Chinese calendar and its weather patterns, to Native American rain dances, the weather has always been a bit mystical.

Even these days we still have no clue what the weather is going to do on any given day – we do, however, have meteorologists and weather forecasters who play a big role in our lives. We use satellites to study weather patterns and predict what the weather will do. But, sometimes, we just look at a groundhog! Have you ever wondered why? Let’s find out…

Punxsutawney Phil

There is a ritual in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania that occurs annually ever February 2nd. The famed groundhog, Punxsutawney Phil emerges from hibernation to see what the weather will do. It is thought that if Phil can see his shadow, there will be another 6 weeks of winter, and if he doesn’t, warm weather is on its way. Sure, this ritual has been carried out since 1887, but it’s no better than flipping a coin. Though Phil actually has a 64.4% accuracy – and that’s pretty good. So, where did this belief and reliance on groundhogs come from?


This is a history rooted in superstition, and we can go back to older times. For instance, in Europe, it was believed that animal behavior was linked to the winter, and hibernation became something that was closely studied. In Germany, badgers were used to predict the weather, but, due to a lack of badgers when Germans settled in Pennsylvania, a groundhog was used instead. In 1887 a newspaper published a story about Punxsutawney Phil and his ability to predict the weather! This has stuck pretty much every year since and has become an integral part of Punxsutawney and Pennsylvanian culture.

It’s not just Phil who predicts weather

We know that these days we have plenty of equipment and scientific experts who can predict the weather, with a pretty large degree of accuracy. However, there are other more rudimentary means of long-term forecasting that we can refer to. For instance, The Old Farmer’s Almanac, a collection of yearly weather patterns, prepared 18 months in advance. The almanac claims to have an accuracy of around 80%, but this is disputed. Many meteorologists claim that it’s impossible to accurately predict weather more than two weeks in advance.

The weather can affect so much in our lives, including our moods, and our livelihoods. And we are constantly looking for ways of understanding the weather better. Groundhogs were used back in the times before we had equipment and science to tell us about the behavioral patterns of weather. However, even though these creatures are used purely for tradition now, it seems one, at least, has a pretty good accuracy.