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Groundhog Day

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Oct 27, 2005
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NW Panhandle Texas
Punxsutawney Phil Catches His Shadow, Six More Winter Weeks to Go
PUNXSUTAWNEY, Pa. — Don't put those winter coats away just yet.

The world's most famous weather prognosticating groundhog was roused from his burrow at 7:23 a.m. Thursday and saw his shadow, a sign that there'll be six more weeks of winter.

And though the crowds booed, hundreds were rowdy anyway, dressed in black and gold and swirling Pittsburgh Steelers Terrible Towels in the air in anticipation of Sunday's Super Bowl.

Phil even got in on the Steelers frenzy, with his handlers draping a Terrible Towel over him as he emerged. Earlier, members of the groudhog's famed Inner Circle threw the trademark towels at the crowds as they sang "Here we go Steelers."

Each Feb. 2, thousands of people descend on Punxsutawney, a town of about 6,100 people located about 65 miles northeast of Pittsburgh, for a little midwinter revelry, celebrating what had essentially been a German superstition.

The Germans believed that if a hibernating animal casts a shadow Feb. 2 — the Christian holiday of Candlemas — winter will last another six weeks. If no shadow is seen, legend says spring will come early
"This is just a ball. I'm having so much fun," said Nancy Durr, who had rub-on Punxsutawney Phil tattoos on each of her cheeks. Durr, of Paxton, Neb., who came to this small western Pennsylvania town with her six brothers and sisters to celebrate her 50th birthday.

She had been outside awaiting Phil's arrival since about 2:15 a.m. Thursday.

"I just always wanted to spend my birthday here," she said.

Susan Leal traveled from Rancho Cucamonga, Calif. The trip was a gift from her husband, John, for her 40th birthday.

"I've always dreamed of coming to see Punxsutawney Phil," Leal said. "It's in my genes. I have just always wanted to do this."

According to the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club, Phil has seen his shadow 96 times, hasn't seen it 14 times and there are no records for nine years.

The last time Phil failed to see his shadow was in 1999. Still, Thursday's forecast was calling for variable cloudiness and a high of about 48 degrees — significantly warmer than the temperatures in the teens the last two years.

But the weather is secondary. The real point is having fun.

"It's kind of crazy that so many people come here," said Justine Juart, 21, of Punxsutawney.

Nic Weymouth, 27, and Ben Thompson, 30, traveled from Alabama to join in the fun. Both are big fans of the 1993 Bill Murray movie "Groundhog Day."

"That's probably what turned us on to Groundhog Day," said Weymouth, a preacher.

Thompson began planning the journey while he was in Tanzania, Africa, where he spent two years as a missionary.

"He said, 'The first February I'm home, we're going to Punxsutawney,"' Weymouth said while stopped at the edge of town to pose for pictures in front of a large groundhog cutout.

Because no tickets are sold, organizers don't do an official count. But, an estimated 2,000 people were on hand last year, when Groundhog Day fell on a Wednesday. Crowds are larger when Groundhog Day falls on or closer to the weekend and in 2002, estimates placed the number of revelers at 30,000 to 40,000.

Interest in the town's festivities got a huge boost after "Groundhog Day," in which Murray plays a television reporter covering Groundhog Day. Each day he wakes up to the same day.

"As repetitive as it can be, it's different every year," said Mike Johnston, a member of the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club's Inner Circle — the top-hat- and tuxedo-wearing businessmen responsible for carrying on the tradition.

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