Why Do We Use a Groundhog to Forecast the Weather?

Jeff Swensen, Getty Images
Jeff Swensen, Getty Images

It's only been in the past 60 or so years that humans have been able to rely on television meteorologists for weather predictions. Before Al Roker, the Babylonians looked at cloud formations; in 300 BCE, the Chinese had a calendar broken into 24 festivals, each with its own unique weather patterns.

Today we use satellites and other costly equipment to gauge our environment, examining changes in the atmosphere and running sophisticated computer models. And sometimes, we just stare at a groundhog.

Every February 2, a doughy rodent named Punxsutawney Phil briefly emerges from his winter hibernation to have a look around. If he sees his shadow, that means there will be six more weeks of winter. If he doesn't, we can assume that warm weather is looming.

The ritual has been carried out in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania every year since 1887. Relying on Phil is actually far less reliable than flipping a coin—he's right an estimated 39 percent of the time—but clearly someone at one time believed a groundhog had predictive abilities. Who? And why?

To understand Phil's current status, it helps to know that superstition and weather have had a long association. Observers of the Christian holiday Candlemas, for example, received candles blessed by clergymen. If the skies were cloudy that day, warm weather was imminent; if the sun was out, winter would persist.

In Europe, the idea that winter's duration could be foretold was carried over to animal behavior. Hibernating animals like bears, marmots, and hedgehogs were observed to see when they'd emerge from their dens.

In Germany, the weather was anticipated by badgers. When Germans began settling in Pennsylvania, however, badgers weren't so readily available: The easiest hibernating animal to locate was the groundhog. In 1887, a newspaper editor began circulating the idea that one groundhog in particular, Punxsutawney Phil, was a meteorological wonder. Before long, the entire country became preoccupied with Phil’s prognosticating, and an annual tradition was born.

Phil isn't the only one in the business of long-range forecasting. The Old Farmer's Almanac, a yearly digest of upcoming weather patterns for large geographical areas, is prepared up to 18 months in advance: Its editors claim an 80 percent accuracy rate, though some meteorologists dispute the viability of assessing weather more than two weeks out.

In 2017, Phil "predicted" six more weeks of winter; it turned out to be the second-warmest February on record. In 2018, Phil again saw his shadow, but the month resulted in multiple new record high temperatures, including 80 degree days in typical winterscapes like Massachusetts and Washington, D.C., and several Midwestern and southern towns had record rainfall.

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This Outdoor Lantern Will Keep Mosquitoes Away—No Bug Spray Necessary

Thermacell, Amazon
Thermacell, Amazon

With summer comes outdoor activities, and with those activities come mosquito bites. If you're one of the unlucky people who seem to attract the insects, you may be tempted to lock yourself inside for the rest of the season. But you don't have to choose between comfort and having a cocktail on the porch, because this lamp from Thermacell ($25) keeps outdoor spaces mosquito-free without the mess of bug spray.

The device looks like an ordinary lantern you would display on a patio, but it works like bug repellent. When it's turned on, a fuel cartridge in the center provides the heat needed to activate a repellent mat on top of the lamp. Once activated, the repellent in the mat creates a 15-by-15-foot bubble of protection that repels any mosquitos nearby, making it a great option for camping trips, days by the pool, and backyard barbecues.

Mosquito repellent lantern.

Unlike some other mosquito repellents, this lantern is clean, safe, and scent-free. It also provides light like a real lamp, so you can keep pests away without ruining your backyard's ambience.

The Thermacell mosquito repellent lantern is now available on Amazon. If you've already suffered your first mosquito bites of the summer, here's some insight into why that itch can be so excruciating.

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Happy Canada Day! What Exactly Is Canada Day?

bluejayphoto/iStock/Getty Images Plus
bluejayphoto/iStock/Getty Images Plus

Happy Canada Day! On July 1, 1867, the nation was officially born when the Constitution Act joined three provinces into one country: Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and the Canada province, which then split into Ontario and Quebec. However, Canada was not completely independent of England until 1982.

The holiday called Dominion Day was officially established in 1879, but it wasn't observed by many Canadians, who considered themselves to be British citizens. Dominion Day started to catch on when the 50th anniversary of the confederation rolled around in 1917. In 1946, a bill was put forth to rename Dominion Day, but arguments in the House of Commons over what to call the holiday stalled the bill.

The 100th anniversary of the nation's official creation in 1967 saw the growth of the spirit of Canadian patriotism, and Dominion Day celebrations really began to take off. Although quite a few Canadians already called the holiday Canada Day (or Fête du Canada), the new name wasn't formally adopted until October of 1982.

How to celebrate Canada Day

There are many ways to celebrate Canada Day. First: What's a patriotic celebration without a parade? Typically, parades are held in cities, towns, and villages all over Canada (though many of this year's event will be virtual, due to the coronavirus pandemic). The Royal Canadian Mounted Police have an established group called the RCMP Musical Ride. These 32 officers, who are rotated after three years' service, perform equestrian drills for the public throughout Canada.

Other Canada Day traditions that are gaining footholds are picnics, festivals, sporting events, and fireworks.

Many Canada Day events are planned all over the country, including Vancouver, Ottawa, Calgary, Toronto, Montreal, and Victoria (though, again, 2020 may look a bit different).

If you want to celebrate at home, why not belt out your own rendition of "O Canada"? You can find the lyrics here. And hear the French version as well.

This story has been updated for 2020.