Punxsutawney expecting large crowds for groundhog prediction

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When Jeff Brubaker realized the Punxsutawney Groundhog Day celebrations would fall on a Saturday, he couldn't resist the idea of celebrating with Phil.

"It helped that I was born on Groundhog Day," Mr. Brubaker, 29, said. "I love how there's such gravity attached to a celebration of a small rodent. I love the grandiosity of it."

Mr. Brubaker plans to make the trek to Punxsutawney from North Carolina with what is likely to be a crowd of over 30,000 people, one of the largest in recent memory. The largest Groundhog Day on record was in 2002, when more than 45,000 converged on Gobbler's Knob, Phil's temporary burrow.

Every year, thousands of people gather to witness the unveiling of Punxsutawney Phil, a groundhog with supernatural meteorological powers.

Phil will make his 127th prediction on Saturday, when he is statistically likely to see his own shadow, thus confirming that there will be six more weeks of winter.

Although records from the late 1800s are incomplete, Phil has seen his shadow in 98 of the last 123 predictions.

But Mr. Brubaker is worried that climate change might ruin Phil's spotless record of weather predicting accuracy. "Phil's job is getting tougher because climate change is taking hold of the planet. Phil has to figure out dynamics of the planet. I don't know if he has climate models in his head."

Climate experts as well as people with intimate knowledge of Punxsutawney Phil disagree.

Accuweather senior meteorologist and long-range climate expert Paul Pastelok said that global warming is unlikely to have much effect on Phil's predictions. "I don't think the predictions will change dramatically [as a result of climate change]," he said.

But even in the context of weather events as varied as Superstorm Sandy and record-breaking January temperatures, "the groundhog should predict six more weeks of winter," Mr. Pastelok said.

Even if global warming did have a dramatic effect on Punxsutawney weather patterns, Phil is prepared for anything, according to Mike Johnston, the vice president emeritus of the Inner Circle of the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club.

"Phil is intimately aware of global warming, it is incorporated into his daily regime of reading the newspapers and watching TV," Mr. Johnston said. "[Climate change] could certainly affect the predictions as time goes on."

But Groundhog Day isn't just about marmot weather prognostication, it is also about attracting consumers for local businesses. Though there is no admission fee for seeing Phil on Groundhog Day, the overall boost to the local economy is over $1 million, according to the Pennsylvania Tourism Office.

Mr. Johnston said that becoming an organizer of such a large event as a member of the Inner Circle isn't easy. "The dedication to the job has to be complete. We would all take a bullet for Phil."

Mr. Johnston said that Gov. Tom Corbett and Danny Rubin, the author of screenplay "Groundhog Day," are expected to attend.

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Alex Zimmerman: azimmerman@post-gazette.com or 412-263-3909 or on Twitter @AGZimmerman.


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