PUNXSUTAWNEY, PA - Emerging from his lair on Super Bowl Sunday, groundhog Punxsutawney Phil couldn't predict the winner of the big game but his handlers said he was sure of his weather forecast: There will be six more weeks of winter.
Pennsylvania's famed groundhog was roused from slumber at 7:28 a.m. Sunday and, according to the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club, directed handler Bill Deeley to a scroll that contained the prediction -- along with a Super Bowl reference.
As usual, thousands of fans turned out on Groundhog Day to see the furry rodent, the most famous of a small group of groundhogs said to forecast the weather.
Legend has it that if the groundhog sees his shadow on Feb. 2, winter will last another month-and-a-half. If he doesn't see it, spring will come early.
In reality, Phil's prediction is decided ahead of time by a group called the Inner Circle, whose members don top hats and tuxedos for the annual ceremony on Gobbler's Knob, the tiny hill in the town for which he's named about 65 miles northeast of Pittsburgh.
The prediction fell on Super Bowl Sunday for the first time. The closest the game previously came to coinciding with Groundhog Day was in 2009, when the just-down-the-road Pittsburgh Steelers defeated the Arizona Cardinals 27-23 the night before Phil's forecast.
This year's NFL championship pitting the Seattle Seahawks and Denver Broncos at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J., will be the Super Bowl's 48th installment, while Phil has been predicting the weather since 1886.
In a nod to the game, Phil's forecast came in the form of a Super Bowl-themed poem:
"A Super Bowl winner I will not predict,
But my weather forecast, you cannot contradict,
That's not a football lying beside me
It's my shadow you see
So, six more weeks of winter it shall be!"
This year's Groundhog Day celebration marks a winter that has brought extreme cold to vast stretches of the country, including areas of the South wholly unaccustomed to severe winter weather. A snow and ice storm paralyzed Atlanta and other Southern cities last week.
Phil has now seen his shadow 101 times while failing to see it 17 times, according to the Inner Circle. There are no records for the remaining years.
The National Climatic Data Center has put Phil's forecasts to the test and found them sorely lacking, declaring the groundhog has "no predictive skill."
"It really isn't a `bright' idea to take a measure such as a groundhog's shadow and use it as a predictive meteorological tool for the entire United States," the data center says on its website, helpfully if somewhat obviously.
Other prognosticating groundhogs include Staten Island Chuck in New York and General Beauregard Lee in Atlanta.