Groundhog Day has rolled around again to see what a group of rodents have to say about spring. However, in Canada, tragedy struck as star of the season Fred la Marmotte was found dead just a few hours before the big prediction.
The idea goes that when a groundhog emerges from their burrow at the end of hibernation, their shadow decides what the season will bring. If a groundhog sees its shadow it’ll scurry back in and local residents can expect a further stretch of winter. Should the groundhog see no shadow, they’ll scuttle up top side, heralding the arrival of spring.
The Groundhog Festivities in Quebec took a turn when it was announced that Fred la Marmotte had died at the grand age of nine years, reports CBC News. An impressive age for a species that more typically only makes it to four to six years old.
Over-winter mortality such as that which claimed the life of Fred is a common fate for groundhogs, who past a certain age are more likely to go into hibernation for a long sleep that they never wake up from. A similar story played out last year in New Jersey, where Groundhog Day fans learned that Milltown Mel had “crossed over the rainbow bridge” shortly before the big day.
The idea of Groundhog Day comes from Pennsylvania Germans who settled in America in the 18th and 19th centuries. As for the hype surrounding these animals’ capacity to predict future weather, The Washington Post actually looked at the statistics on this.
They compared the average daily temperatures during the six weeks following a Groundhog Day prediction, and the prediction itself and found that the rodents' predictions were roughly the same as random chance, with a few notable exceptions. In Oklahoma City, the years when the groundhog saw its shadow were 4.7°C (8.5°F) cooler than the years when it did not. Meanwhile in Florida, when the groundhog saw its shadow, the days were on average 7.7°C (13.9°F) warmer following the prediction.
Fred la Marmotte’s predicting days may be over, but Quebec was ready with a small child and a stuffed groundhog to declare the region can expect a lengthy winter. Bad news all round, then.