Every year, Punxsutawney Phil makes his Groundhog Day prediction about how much winter we’ve got left. Here’s a closer look at the rodent we trust for weather prognostication.
Punxsutawney Phil has been in charge of telling us how long winter will wear on (and, conversely, when spring will finally bloom) since 1887, all based on whether or not he sees his shadow on the morning of February 2 (if he sees his shadow, we’re in for six more weeks of winter; if he doesn’t, spring will come early). There are no other Phils. There’s just the one. No, really.
Phil stays so young by way of a magical “Groundhog Punch” that he’s fed every summer at the annual Groundhog Picnic (just a sip) that apparently extends his life for another seven years. So even if Phil misses out on six annual sips, he’s still good to go with his weather reporting and newsmaking for the time being. That’s some magical punch—the kind that foresees potential snags for nearly a full decade.
Phil obviously can’t get his elixir without a little help, which is where the so-called “Inner Circle” comes into play. The Punxsutawney Groundhog Club’s Inner Circle doesn’t just hold fast to Phil’s meds and administer them to their beloved groundhog; they also take care of Phil for the entire year, plan each year’s big ceremony in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, and sport some truly styling top hats and tuxedos at each ceremony.
The Inner Circle currently has 15 members (16 if you count Phil himself), including President Jeff Lundy, who has been in the circle since 1990. The members all have individual nicknames that vaguely tie into their careers (Tom Dunkel, the so-called “Shingle Shaker,” is a roofing contractor) or weather phenomena (there’s an “Iceman,” a “Big Chill,” and even a “Thunder Conductor”).
When Phil is not busy predicting the weather at Gobbler’s Knob, a rural area about two miles outside of Punxsutawney proper, he lives in the town library.
Phil lives in that library with his wife, Phyllis. Yes, Punxsutawney Phil has his own little groundhog wife, and her name is Phyllis. It’s almost too adorable to be believed.
Despite enjoying life in the library and doing other groundhog-appropriate things, Phil has done his fair share of traveling over the course of his career. He has also met big celebrities and public figures like Oprah and President Ronald Reagan.
For many years, the groundhog from Punxsutawney was called “Br’er Groundhog,” which doesn’t quite have the same ring to it. The official Groundhog Club site says that he was named after “King Phillip,” but odds are that the actual namesake was the UK’s Prince Philip. In 1953, Punxsutawney buried a pair of groundhogs they’d named Elizabeth and Philip, after the newly crowned English queen and her husband. Punxsutawney’s famed groundhog was first officially named Phil a few years later in 1961, and records suggest it was a holdover name from the earlier Philip.
Phil speaks a special language—it’s called Groundhogese—which is what he uses to communicate his shadow-finding to the Inner Circle President, who then announces it to the world.
Phil apparently likes more than just his Groundhog Punch: The groundhog quite memorably announced during Prohibition that, if he were kept from drinking the hard stuff, there would be 60 weeks of winter. (But not even Punxsutawney Phil can plunge the world into over a year of winter, desire for booze aside.)
Phil’s batting average for weather predictions isn’t exactly the greatest: A record of his findings shows that his shadow-based predictions have only been right about 64.4 percent of the time. But don’t blame Phil!
“Unfortunately, there have been years where the president has misinterpreted what Phil said,” retired handler Ron Ploucha told PennLive. “Because Phil’s never wrong. Phil’s prediction is 100 percent correct, and we blame the variants on the president’s interpretation of Phil’s prediction.”
A version of this article first appeared in 2014.