You’ve probably heard of Pennsylvania’s Punxsutawney Phil, but West Virginia has its own weather predicting groundhog and his name is French Creek Freddie.
Freddie is currently hibernating, but he’ll wake up on Sunday, Feb. 2 to welcome hundreds of visitors for a Groundhog Day celebration at the West Virginia State Wildlife Center. The event is open to the public and starts at 9:30 a.m.
“It’s great to showcase him,” said Tyler Evans, a wildlife biologist for the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources. “Not too many animals have their own day. Groundhogs are usually overlooked, but they are fascinating animals — the only one we have here at the Wildlife Center that’s a true hibernator.”
To prepare for hibernation, Freddie gains as much weight as possible during the summer so his body can make it through the winter while he sleeps for months at a time. During hibernation, a groundhog’s body temperature drops to slightly above freezing. Their breathing and heart rate also slows down.
But come Groundhog Day, Freddie is ready to come out of his burrow.
Groundhog Day through the years.
According to tradition, we can expect an early spring if it’s cloudy and Freddie doesn’t see his shadow. If it’s sunny and Freddie’s shadow is visible, he’ll return to his burrow and winter will last 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 each year. Phil may have better name recognition, but Wildlife Center workers say he isn’t as reliable as Freddie when it comes to forecasting.
Can groundhogs really predict the weather?
So, do groundhogs really know when spring is coming? The science behind their predictions is fuzzy at best, but that’s understandable when the sun is all the furry critters go by. Freddie has been predicting the arrival of spring since 1978. In the past 40 years, his forecasts have an accuracy rate of about 50 percent. Evans swears by Freddie’s ability to predict the weather, but he admits flipping a coin will get you about the same results.
“It’s all fun and an opportunity to get out and see Freddie and enjoy all the activities we have to offer,” Evans said. “It’s also a day where people can come out and tour the Wildlife Center. Hopefully, the weather will be nice enough to do that.”
Current forecasts are mostly cloudy with temperatures in the upper 30s, perfect conditions for an early spring prediction.
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.