The folksy, mid-winter tradition known as Groundhog Day has begun with one of Canada’s best known shadow-casting critters signalling a long cold winter ahead.
Nova Scotia’s Shubenacadie Sam emerged from his burrow northeast of Halifax this morning, and according to his handlers, saw his shadow.
Folklore has it that if a groundhog sees its shadow on Feb. 2, it will retreat into its burrow, heralding six more weeks of cold weather, which is not bad by most Canadian standards. No shadow — again according to folklore — is said to foretell spring-like temperatures are on the way.
Sam is always the first groundhog in North America to make a prediction about how long winter will last, with Wiarton Willie in Ontario offering a guess about an hour later.
Pennsylvania’s Punxsutawney Phil is also expected to make an appearance this morning with his top-hatted handlers at Gobbler’s Knob, a tiny hill outside of Punxsutawney, Pa., about 100 kilometres northeast of Pittsburgh.
— Shubenacadie Sam (@ShubenacadieSam) February 2, 2020
Sadly, the festivities at Shubenacadie Wildlife Park surrounding Sam’s annual prognostication were cancelled this year due to a human weather forecast that calls for a blustery snowstorm to hit the region today.
Some say the tradition can be traced to Greek mythology, or it could have started with Candlemas, a Christian custom named for the lighting candles during the feast of the Purification of the Virgin Mary.
One Scottish couplet summed up the superstition: “If Candlemas Day is bright and clear, there’ll be two winters in the year.”
In medieval Europe, farmers believed that if hedgehogs emerged from their burrows to catch insects, that was a sure sign of an early spring.
However, when Europeans settled in eastern North America, the groundhog was substituted for the hedgehog.
On the West Coast, they now call on marmots like Van Island Violet. Like groundhogs, marmots are a type of large ground squirrel.
For most winter-weary Canadians, Groundhog Day is a welcome distraction, but these pug-nosed rodents don’t have a great track record when it comes to long-term forecasting.
In his book, “The Day Niagara Falls Ran Dry,” climatologist David Phillips cites a survey of 40 years of weather data from 13 Canadian cities, which concluded there was an equal number of cloudy and sunny days on Feb. 2.
During that time, the groundhogs’ predictions were right only 37 per cent of the time.