Endless Day: Can Groundhogs Really Predict the Coming of Spring?

The concept of Groundhog Day is as simple as it is unusual. In the United States and Canada, each February 2, the date halfway between the winter solstice and the spring equinox, a marmot still puffy-eyed is pulled out of its burrow to be presented to the light of day. If the person holding it proclaims that the rodent sees its shadow, then it is declared that winter will end in six weeks. If he doesn’t see her, then spring will come earlier than expected. At least, that’s what the tradition says. Furthermore, this year it was determined that Punxsutawney Phil had seen his shadow.

Every year, The excitement has come to a climax closer to the date. Sometimes we greet it with a replay from the movie An endless day who made this day famous all over the world. However, the “proclamations” of the marmots are postponed with a some degree of seriousness. Groundhog divination is no substitute for long-term meteorology, although some might ironically argue otherwise.

In order to check if groundhogs could guess the weather, a team of researchers from Lakehead University in Canada decided to look at the evidence put forward with an objective eye. Alex Ross, the lead author of the study, admits it was an idea born at the campus bar. “We often had conversations [à ce sujet] after many beers,” he confesses to National Geographic. The boredom imposed by the pandemic also pushed them to embark on this study. The results, published in the magazine Weather, Climate, and Societyare still the result of the most complete statistical analysis ever published on the weather prediction capabilities of marmots.

On the other hand, as surprising as it may seem, it was not the first. The authors say that previous initiatives focused on the oldest and best-known of the forecasting marmots, Punxsutawney Phil. They therefore excluded several dozen of his acolytes and imitators. Furthermore, the spring harbingers selected to assess Phil’s predictive abilities, for example changes in snowfall levels, are certainly consistent. with its environment in Pennsylvaniabut are not relevant for general analysis.

Thus, Mr. Ross and his colleagues chose the moment of full flowering of the Carolina Claytonia (Claytonia caroliniana). This plant flowers briefly and early in the spring in a geographical area similar to that of the distribution of marmots. They estimated its flowering date each year at the location of each prognostic rodent they included in their study. They then compared it to the prediction of groundhogs.

The authors identified a potential number of forty-five marmots for their analysis. Not all could be part of their study. Those who were dead and stuffed were not retained. The puppets were automatically eliminated. Finally, the prediction had to include the explicit sighting of a shadow, not the secret whispers proclaimed in human ear who was holding the groundhog.

That left thirty-three marmots in four Canadian provinces and sixteen states in the United States. After comparing the predictions to the blooms of the Carolina Claytonia, the team was able to conclude that the marmots’ accuracy rate was 50%, the equivalent of a toss of a coin. exception that here, the room is somewhat fluffy.


The predictive powers of groundhogs are not all equal. Punxsutawney Phil’s predictions were correct fifty-two times out of a hundred. Three other mascots, Essex Ed and chuckles of Connecticut, and Stonewall Jackson of New Jersey, were just aiming more than 70% of the time. Converselythe success rate of Buckeye Chuck and Holland Huckleberry from Ohio, as well as Dunkirk Dave from New York, did not exceed 30%.

Punxsutawney Phil and Wiarton Willie of Ontario were the only two marmots to have more than fifty years of prediction under their belt. Among the newcomers, Winnipeg Willow was surely the worst student. He didn’t do only four predictions, three of which were false. He predicted a late spring a year when it finally arrived thirty-eight days earlier than average. “Even if some marmots can sometimes predict the onset of spring better than others, the group evaluated does not seem to have any proven prophets,” write the authors.

“Chuckles succeeds! exclaims Patricia Buxton of the Lutz Children’s Museum in Connecticut. The museum is home to one of the most gifted marmot forecasters. Unfortunately, the last Chuckles died in 2020. Her role was temporarily filled by the museum’s resident hedgehog, Phoebe. The new Chuckles, Chuckles XI, was formally named Connecticut’s official Groundhog right after making its inaugural prediction this year.

” He [a posé] his paw on theFarmers Almanac while Judge Leo Diana [a prêté] oath for his official role,” she explains. “He has many predecessors and heavy tasks ahead but he fully lives up to his title as a tipster. »

To be fair, the study authors acknowledge that groundhogs might have a better chance of succeeding if they weren’t roused from their winter slumber to make predictions. Most of them don’t come out of their burrows until March at the earliest. Maybe their performance would be better if they could make their predictions after a full winter off.

Moreover, in a warming world, the first day of spring is not fixed. In this regard, it is impressive that Punxsutawney Phil has apparently kept himself informed of the scientific literature, since his predictions are increasingly leaning towards an early spring.

Mr. Ross tells National Geographic that it was “wonderful” to be able to step away from more serious studies for a moment and write such a playful article, especially at a time when the world needed good news.

Alas, the authors’ conclusion is unequivocal: the predictive abilities of marmots regarding the arrival of spring are no more than chance, “without a shadow of a doubt”, they concluded.


According to a recent study, On Wall Street, US stock market returns are 2.78% higher after predicting an early spring than a long winter. The authors believe that this discovery stems from the fact that “American investors still display a major irrational optimism around the prognoses of early spring proclaimed on Groundhog Day”.

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Endless Day: Can Groundhogs Really Predict the Coming of Spring?

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