What do John Dalton, Al Roker, and Punxsutawney Phil the Groundhog have in common? They’re all famous weathermen! Groundhogs, which also go by the name woodchucks, are ground squirrels related to chipmunks and prairie dogs. They live in the North East of the United States and in Canada, where they feed on wild grasses and insects and live in burrows they dig for themselves. Sometimes the tunnels that make up their homes can interfere with the homes of humans by making the ground under buildings unstable. Some farmers and homeowners get mad at Groundhogs for damaging their property. However, other people believe that Groundhogs provide a useful service for humans: they predict the weather!
In the 1800’s, German immigrants in Pennsylvania started a tradition where, every February 2nd, they watched the behavior of a special Groundhog to tell them how soon Spring would begin. They would gather around the weatherman-Groundhog’s burrow and watch as he emerged. If the day was sunny, the groundhog might see his shadow, become afraid, and retreat into his burrow. According to the tradition, this is his way of telling people that Winter will last for another six weeks. If the Groundhog doesn’t see his shadow and leaves his burrow, then Spring will come early! Instead of using graphs and images for his weather forecast, the Groundhog communicates with his emotions!
This tradition was “Candlemas” to the German immigrants, but now we know it as “Groundhog Day.” Every February 2nd, people still look to famous Weather-Groundhogs such as Punxsutawney Phil, Western Maryland Murray, and Chattanooga Chuck to tell them how soon spring will come. The weathermen-Groundhogs are never completely accurate with their predictions, but then again, neither are human weathermen!
Learn more about groundhogs in Prairie Storms by Darcy Pattison and click on the picture below to print this great coloring page by Kathleen Rietz.