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Conflicting shadows on Groundhog Day

February 2, 2009 12:21:44 PM PST
The world's most famous groundhog saw his shadow Monday morning, predicting that this already long winter will last for six more weeks. Staten Island's counterpart disagreed. Punxsutawney Phil emerged just after dawn in front of an estimated 13,000 witnesses, many dressed in black and gold to celebrate the Pittsburgh Steelers' Super Bowl victory the night before.

"There's significant buzz from the Steelers win and quite a few Terrible Towels floating from the crowd," said Mickey Rowley, deputy secretary for tourism in Pennsylvania.

The annual ritual takes place on Gobbler's Knob, a tiny hill in Punxsutawney, a borough of about 6,100 residents some 65 miles northeast of Pittsburgh.

Phil was as docile as usual, but the same couldn't be said for his grumpy New York City counterpart, Staten Island Chuck, who bit Mayor Michael Bloomberg during his annual forecasting ceremony on Monday.

"It nicked his hand," said Bloomberg spokesman Stu Loeser.

The groundhog, officially named Charles G. Hogg, drew blood from the billionaire, but Bloomberg was told there was no risk of rabies. The 2-year-old animal was born and raised in captivity and has had no interaction with other animals.

The Punxsutawney Groundhog Club announced the forecast in a short proclamation, in which Phil acknowledged the Steelers' 27-23 win over the Arizona Cardinals.

According to German superstition, if a hibernating animal casts a shadow on Feb. 2 - the Christian holiday of Candlemas - winter will last another six weeks. If no shadow is seen, legend says, spring will come early.

Since 1887, Phil has seen his shadow 97 times, hasn't seen it 15 times, and there are no records for nine years, according to the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club.

Back in Pennsylvania, Rowley said the Groundhog Day festivities are the state's largest tourist gathering in the winter. And if Phil's forecast proves correct, it should bring even more tourists to the state.

"It's six more weeks of skiing," Rowley said.


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