West Virginia’s official weather prognosticator French Creek Freddie emerged from his hibernating den in the groundhog pen at the West Virginia Wildlife Center in Upshur County on Saturday at 10am. He was greeted by overcast skies and saw no shadow. According to legend it means an early spring. You can hear the proclamation by clicking the audio icon.
Punxsutawney Phil may get most of the national press, but in West Virginia one weather prognosticator has quietly carved himself quite a niche. French Creek Freddie has a track record which crushes Phil for accuracy.
“Punxsutawney Phil is done by committee the night before and the groundhog doesn’t have anything to do with it,” said Gene Thorne, manager of the West Virginia Wildlife Center at French Creek where Freddie makes his home. “Freddie was right last year and Punxsutawney Phil was wrong.”
Indeed, Freddie saw no shadow in 2012 and predicted an early spring. He turned out to be spot on.
“I’ve got the data to prove it since the Wildlife Center is an official data collection station for the National Weather Service,” said Thorne. “If you go back through the climatological data, by March we were up in the 80’s.”
Freddie has been making predictions at the Wildlife Center for many years. However, only recently has his prognostication grown into a full blown celebration. The ceremony drew 250 people last year on a weekday. Thorne hopes a larger crowd will be part of Saturday’s gathering.
“We gather up about 9:45am and have a couple of songs, including one I wrote called ‘The French Creek Freddie Song” which goes to the tune of the Mickey Mouse march,” Thorne said.
The ceremony includes the songs, poems, and Thorne delivering a few biological facts about groundhogs along with some history about groundog day. At 10am sharp, Freddie is brought out of his den and makes his prediction.
“He either sees his shadow or he doesn’t.” said Thorne. “This is his prediction, it’s not done by committee.”
The tradition of Groundhog Day has roots in ancient Celtic times. Thorne said when the Romans invaded they took the custom and spread it across Europe and used hedgehogs and bears for the ceremony. European settlers brought the tradition to the United States when they arrived and today the groundhog is the universal predictor, with the exception of Alaska where a marmot is used because of its abundance.
Thorne hopes for a big crowd, despite a prediction of bad weather for Saturday in Upshur County.