Shubenacadie Sam bows out of Groundhog Day, but Wiarton Willie is ready

Shubenacadie Sam bows out of Groundhog Day, but Wiarton Willie is ready

The folksy, mid-winter tradition known as Groundhog Day is set to begin later today, but one of Canada’s best known shadow-casting critters will be absent.

With a blustery snowstorm expected to dump up to 15 centimetres of snow on parts of Nova Scotia, the annual event northeast of Halifax featuring Shubenacadie Sam has been cancelled.

Instead, staff at the Shubenacadie Wildlife Park are expected to announce Sam’s prediction on social media at 8 a.m. Atlantic time — though the park will remain closed.

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 — about 30 minutes after Sam — with his top-hatted handlers at Gobbler’s Knob, a tiny hill outside of Punxsutawney, Pa., about 100 kilometres northeast of Pittsburgh.

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 — not bad by most Canadian standards.

However, spring-like temperatures are thought to be on the way if there is no shadow to be seen.

The ritual may have something to do with Feb. 2 landing midway between winter solstice and spring equinox, but no one knows for sure.

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.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 2, 2020.

The Canadian Press

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