PUNXSUTAWNEY, Pa. — The handlers for groundhog Punxsutawney Phil say he’s forecasting six more weeks of what already has felt like a brutally long and cold winter.
Pennsylvania’s famed groundhog emerged from his lair in front of thousands of fans around daybreak Sunday.
Legend has it that if the furry rodent sees his shadow on Feb. 2, winter will last another month-and-a-half. If he doesn’t see it, spring will come early.
In reality, Phil’s prediction is decided ahead of time by a group called the Inner Circle, whose members don top hats and tuxedos for the annual Groundhog Day ceremony on Gobbler’s Knob, the tiny hill in the town for which he’s named about 65 miles northeast of Pittsburgh.
The prediction this year fell on the same day as Super Bowl Sunday. The closest the game previously came to coinciding with Groundhog Day was in 2009, when the just-down-the-road Pittsburgh Steelers defeated the Arizona Cardinals 27-23 in the Super Bowl, the night before Phil’s forecast.
The game this year featuring the Seattle Seahawks and Denver Broncos at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J., will be the Super Bowl’s 48th installment, while Phil has been predicting the weather since 1886.
This year’s Groundhog Day celebration marks a winter that has brought extreme cold to stretches of the country wholly unaccustomed to it, as well as a snow and ice storm that paralyzed Atlanta and other Southern cities.
Phil is the most famous of a small group of groundhogs said to forecast the weather, including Staten Island Chuck in New York and General Beauregard Lee in Atlanta.
The National Climatic Data Center has put Phil’s forecasts to the test and found them sorely lacking, declaring the groundhog has ‘‘no predictive skill.’’
‘‘It really isn’t a ‘bright’ idea to take a measure such as a groundhog’s shadow and use it as a predictive meteorological tool for the entire United States,’’ the data center says on its website, helpfully if somewhat obviously.Rubinkam reported from northeast Pennsylvania.