- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 3, 2002

From combined dispatches
PUNXSUTAWNEY, Pa. The weather-prognosticating groundhog known as Punxsutawney Phil saw his shadow yesterday, signaling six more weeks of winter in North America.
The chubby rodent, stirred from his burrow on Gobbler's Knob at the height of the annual Groundhog Day festival, was hauled from beneath a maple tree stump into the morning gloom and the glare of television camera lights as thousands cheered the 116-year-old ritual.
According to an ancient custom brought to the New World by European immigrants, winter will soon give way to spring if a burrowing animal like a groundhog or hedgehog fails to see its shadow on Candlemas Day, which falls on Feb. 2. A shadow sighting means wintry weather for another month and a half.
In Punxsutawney, a town of 6,800 people about 90 miles northeast of Pittsburgh that promotes itself "the Weather Capital of the World," the ceremony is officiated by a group of middle-aged men in top hats and tuxedos who are led by a local funeral home director.
This year, the ceremony occurred amid heightened security, with National Guard troops and bomb-sniffing dogs on duty to protect against the possibility of a terrorist attack. The tiny rural hamlet expected up to 30,000 people to turn out.
Phil's handlers, who claim to understand "Groundhogese," read an English "translation" rich in crowd-pleasing patriotic rhetoric.
"Thank God I live in the land of the free and the brave," said Phil's written "proclamation," which official reader Phil Johnson conveyed to wild cheers from crowds who stood beneath a cloudless sky just before sunrise. "And I live in a burrow and not in a cave. I've been sleepin', been noddin', been livin' better than bin Laden."
Groundhog Day, which includes parades, food, music, sleigh rides and ice-carving competitions, has been observed since 1887 at Gobbler's Knob.
In recent years, however, the custom has become a world phenomenon attracting media coverage from as far away as Europe and Asia, thanks mainly to the popularity of the 1993 Hollywood movie "Groundhog Day" starring Bill Murray.
Phil, a woodchuck who has been feted by luminaries from former President Ronald Reagan to television talk show host Oprah Winfrey, weighs 15 pounds and measures about 22 inches in length.
Organizers say he owes his prognosticating powers to an unusual diet among rodents that has been known to include ice cream and strawberry sundaes.
At State College-based AccuWeather Inc., where science trumps superstition, meteorologists are predicting that February and March will be slightly colder than usual around the Great Lakes and for much of the East Coast, while above-normal temperatures are expected in the northern plains.
In Punxsutawney, AccuWeather's long-range forecast calls for "near to slightly below normal," said senior meteorologist Bernie Rayno. "I suspect that that translates into six more weeks of winter."

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