FRENCH CREEK, W.Va. — There’s some disagreement between the groundhogs when it comes to the weather in the coming weeks.
On Sunday morning, French Creek Freddie emerged from his burrow at the West Virginia Wildlife Center in Upshur County and, in front of an estimated crowd of 400, did not see his shadow. According to Groundhog Day tradition, that means an early spring.
Sunday was a cloudy, rainy day in much of West Virginia.
Earlier in the day, roughly 200 miles away in Punxsutawny, Pa., the internationally famous Punxsutawney Phil saw his shadow and, in doing so, predicted six more weeks of winter.
Freddie has been predicting weather at the West Virginia Wildlife Center since the 1970s when Bill Vanscoy, a former manager, was asked by a reporter what they called the groundhog. It’s not known if Vanscoy intentionally blurted out “Freddie” or if it was a snap decision in search of an answer.
“The true name is woodchuck,” said Rob Sylvester, current manager of the West Virginia Wildlife Center, of Freddie’s species. “The common name people use is groundhogs. Some call them whistle pigs, but the actual name of the species is woodchuck.”
Sylvester said the tradition of looking to the groundhog for a prediction of early spring dates back to the Roman Empire when they would celebrate Candlemas Day. The Roman legions crossed into Europe and introduced the tradition there.
“If the sun shines on Candlemas Day, the snow will swirl until May,” Sylvester explained. “The Germans used a hedgehog, but when it came to America, we didn’t have hedgehogs, but what we did have was woodchucks.”