February 2, 2006

Groundhog’s ruling: six more weeks of winter

PUNXSUTAWNEY, Pennsylvania (Reuters) - Punxsutawney Phil, the groundhog who fans claim is never wrong, predicted six more weeks of winter on Thursday, matching the forecast of professional meteorologists.

"Phil is incapable of error. If he says six more weeks of winter, you can take it to the bank," said Mike Johnston, one of the 15 members of the Groundhog Club Inner Circle in Punxsutawney, site of the annual Groundhog Day ceremony.

According to legend, when the rodent emerges from hibernation on February 2 and sees his shadow, it means six more weeks of winter. If he does not see his shadow, spring is near.

Punxsutawney has celebrated Groundhog Day since 1887, as depicted in 1993 movie "Groundhog Day" starring Bill Murray.

Punxsutawney Phil's staged emergence came before a crowd of estimated between 12,000 to 15,000 spectators in the east-central Pennsylvania town.

The club's claim of 100 percent accuracy for the groundhog comes with a loophole. "He's not saying there will be six more weeks of winter in Chicago or Philadelphia or Cleveland, but there will be somewhere," Johnston said.

Private forecaster MDA EarthSat Energy Weather on Wednesday updated its 30- to 60-day forecast and called for a cold February in the Eastern part of the United States, starting next week. Weather in January was unseasonably mild.

Forecasts of a colder-than-normal winter have supported strong heating oil prices as the Northeast, where 80 percent of the nation's fuel is consumed.

There are 19 known rivals to Punxsutawney Phil. New York's Staten Island Chuck differed with Phil by calling for an end to winter.

Johnston's response? "It's a touchy subject. We want to be civil. Let's just say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery."