Punxsutawney Phil predicts early end to grueling winter

Wed Feb 2, 2011 3:13pm EST
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By Jon Hurdle

PHILADELPHIA (Reuters Life!) - As a huge winter storm paralyzed much of the United States with snow, ice and freezing rain, America's most famous groundhog predicted on Wednesday that spring isn't far away.

Punxsutawney Phil emerged from a tree stump at dawn and, unusually, did not see his shadow, signaling that spring is just around the corner, according to tradition.

"He found that there was no shadow," said Bill Deeley, president of a club that organizes Groundhog Day in the western Pennsylvania town of Punxsutawney. "So an early spring it will be."

The rodent's "prognostication" each February 2 is an annual tradition that was brought to the United States by German immigrants, and is now watched by thousands of people who trek to a hillside called Gobbler's Knob each year to witness the ceremony.

If the groundhog is judged to see its shadow, tradition holds that there will be six more weeks of winter.

Phil last made a prediction of an early spring in 2007 and foretells an early end to winter on average only once every 10 years, said Mike Johnston, vice president of the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club's Inner Circle, or board of directors.

"It's very unusual," he said.

Johnston said the latest prognostication will be entirely accurate, and does not reflect any desire on Phil's part to cheer up Americans who are suffering through a grueling winter.   Continued...

<p>Punxsutawney Phil sits on the shoulder of Official Groundhog Handler John Griffith after making his annual Groundhog Day prediction on Gobbler's Knob in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, February 2, 2011. REUTERS/ Jason Cohn</p>