If there’s a chill in the air, it’s because spring isn’t coming early this year. French Creek Freddie, West Virginia’s preeminent weather prognosticating groundhog, predicted six more weeks of winter this morning when he saw his shadow at the West Virginia Wildlife Center in Upshur County.
When he left his burrow this morning, the two-year-old groundhog was greeted by warm rays of sunshine on what was an otherwise chilly morning.
“The forecast was calling for three to five inches of snow, and it was supposed to be cloudy” said Judy Channell, a worker at the Wildlife Center, as she looked at the sun peaking through trees and clouds overshadowing Freddie’s pavilion. “Now, look at it.”
Moments later, clouds blew in to cover the sun and plunge the Wildlife Center back into a winter chill. That’s Groundhog Day in a nutshell.
According to tradition, we can expect an early spring if it is cloudy and Freddie doesn’t see his shadow after emerging from hibernation. If it’s sunny and his shadow is visible, he returns to his burrow and winter will last for six more weeks.
Groundhog Day customs are rooted in a European superstition that bad weather will come if an animal casts a shadow on February 2. The modern celebration was started in the 1800s by German farmers living in Pennsylvania, not far from where Freddie’s cousin, Punxsutawney Phil, the world’s most famous furry forecaster, makes his own prediction every year.
Phil, who Wildlife Center workers say isn’t as reliable as Freddie when it comes to forecasting, also predicted six more weeks of winter.
Can groundhogs really predict the weather?
The science behind Groundhog Day predictions is fuzzy at best, but that’s understandable when the sun is all the furry critters have to go by. And to be fair, groundhogs don’t have Doppler radar.
Professional meteorologists also have a hard time predicting the arrival of spring, even with the aid of modern forecasting equipment.
“Looking at our models for the next month, there’s an equal chance for temperatures to be above average, below average or average,” said Andrew Beavers, a meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Charleston. He said the current weather outlook only shows a 33 percent chance of Freddie’s prediction coming true.
Freddie has been predicting the weather since 1978. In the past 40 years, Freddie has been right about half the time, says Tyler Evans, a biologist who takes care of the beloved groundhog and dozens of other animals living at the Wildlife Center.
“He’s better at it than Phil,” he said. “Granted, he did get it wrong last year.”
Freddie also saw his shadow last year, and predicted more winter.
“We ended up getting an early spring,” said Evans. “But that’s OK. Hopefully, he got it right this year so he can get back on track.”
Evans swears by Freddie’s ability to predict the weather, but he admitted the accuracy of his forecasts are about the same as flipping a coin.
You can visit French Creek Freddie and dozens of his animal friends!
The West Virginia Wildlife Center in Upshur County is home to French Creek Freddie and nearly 30 different species of West Virginia mammals, birds and reptiles. Visiting this 338-acre facility is perfect for a fun and educational family outing. For directions, hours of operation and admission rates, visit the Wildlife Center’s website by clicking HERE.