How Accurate Is Groundhog Day? See Punxsutawney Phil's Record on Spring Predictions

Groundhogs are cute, groundhogs create great tourism for Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, but groundhogs do not make for good predictors of changing seasons.

Every February 2, people gather at Gobbler's Knob in Punxsutawney, located about 86 miles northeast of Pittsburgh, to see if Phil will predict six more weeks of winter or an early spring. It's a tradition that's more than 130 years old, but staking travel plans or hopes on Phil's predictions is not wise.

Sure, he started off strong in 1887, when he debuted at Gobbler's Knob and accurately predicted six more weeks of winter, according to the National Centers for Environmental Information (NCEI). But, he's wrong most of the time. Although, we can't put all the blame on him because he never formally studied meteorology and the NCEI noted predicting when spring will arrive is a bit of a tall task for anyone because of the United States' varied regional climates.

For those not versed in rodent meteorology, here's how Phil's annual job works. If he sees his shadow, it means there will be six more weeks of winter. If Phil doesn't see his shadow, it means spring will come early.

Between 2010 and 2019, Phil's predictions were only correct 40 percent of the time, according to the NCEI. The bright side, though, is that three out of the four years he was correct–2011, 2013 and 2016–he failed to see his shadow so spring came early. He was also correct in 2014, but that prediction kept winter going for six more weeks.

groundhog day Punxsutawney phil record spring shadow
Punxsutawney Phil is held by the handler as the prediction for six more weeks of winter is read during Groundhog day ceremonies on February 2, 2018, in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania. Phil has been right some of the time, but most of the time, his predictions aren't correct. Brett Carlsen/Getty

Over the past 10 years, Phil was more likely to see his shadow, occurring 60 percent of the time. Last year, he didn't see his shadow, giving Americans hope that warmer temperatures were coming and then decimating those dreams when winter lingered.

Since Phil first started issuing his proclamation in 1887, he predicted spring would come early 19 times, winter would continue for six weeks 104 times and there was no record 10 times, according to NCEI.

So, why do we trust a groundhog with this job? It's a little bit complicated, but according to the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club, it's rooted in a lack of hedgehogs.

A hedgehog seeing his shadow on Candlemas Day, celebrated on February 2, meant six more weeks of bad weather, according to German lore. Unfortunately, when German settlers came to the United States, the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club noted that hedgehogs were in short supply, so they tapped groundhogs to take on the role.

On Sunday, festivities begin before the sun rises at 3 a.m. ET. Phil will make his determination around 7:20 a.m. ET.