Punxsutawney Phil is exonerated by an Ohio prosecutor who accused the groundhog… (David Maxwell / EPA )
Here’s one woodchuck who won’t be gnawing at the metal bars of a jail cell.
Punxsutawney Phil, the sharp-toothed groundhog famous for predicting either the onset of spring or the long drag of winter, has been exonerated by a prosecutor who had indicted him for erroneously forecasting warm days ahead at his annual Groundhog Day appearance Feb. 2.
“Now it turns out, Punxsutawney Phil is little more than a scapegoat,” the prosecutor in Ohio’s Butler County, Mike Gmoser, wrote Tuesday after Phil’s handler took responsibility for flubbing the forecast. Gmoser, according to the Associated Press, also acknowledged that he had “really serious work to do” and that letting Phil get back to being a groundhog, rather than a fugitive, was best for all concerned.
Gmoser’s indictment last week clearly was a joke, but it underscored the eastern United States’ weariness with a winter that just won’t stop. In fact, snow was falling outside Gmoser’s office in Hamilton, Ohio, as he declared that he would not pursue Punxsutawney Phil. On Monday, the high temperature in Washington, D.C., amid rain and light snow showers was 49, nearly 20 degrees below normal.
Lower-than-normal temperatures and late winter snowstorms have plagued much of the eastern half of the country, as meteorologist Julie Martin of weather.com reported early Tuesday from Atlanta, where light snow was falling and passersby were bundled up in winter gear nearly a week into spring.
When Punxsutawney Phil was taken from his hibernation hole Feb. 2 and held aloft in front of thousands of people in Gobbler's Knob, Pa., his handler, Bill Deeley, quoted him as saying he had not seen his shadow. In groundhog lore, that means spring is imminent.
Gmoser's indictment accused the groundhog -- a species often known as a woodchuck -- of misrepresenting an early spring and called for the death penalty. But Deeley, president of the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club's Inner Circle, stepped up Monday to save Phil, saying he had failed to correctly interpret the animal's "groundhog-ese."
The threatened prosecution and subsequent exoneration of Phil was a first for the famous groundhog, who was immortalized in the 1993 film "Groundhog Day," and who appeared on the Oprah Winfrey show in 1995. That's heady stuff for a weather forecaster with less than stellar credentials. According to stormfax.com, since Punxsutawney Phil began issuing predictions in 1887, he has been correct about 39% of the time.
And many groundhogs beg to differ with his forecasts. On Groundhog Day in 2012, as Phil predicted six more weeks of winter, other groundhogs from Canada to Staten Island, N.Y., offered differing opinions.
Deeley, meanwhile, said Phil had weathered the latest crisis well and that Gmoser's decision was the right one and would free prosecutors to chase after hard-core criminals. "He's getting three square meals a day, and a lot of rest," Deeley said of Phil, AP reported.
Just as well, considering the forecast calls for several more days of chilly weather out east.
Stan Citron, an Atlanta resident who was walking his dog in the snow Tuesday, went further, channeling his inner groundhog as he told Martin of weather.com: "I predict a cool spring, a cool summer." Then, perhaps worried about being prosecuted for making a mistake, Citron added as light snow fell: "Who knows what we're going to get?"
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