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Punxsutawney Phil, phree at last

March 26, 2013|By Paul Whitefield
  • Punxsutawney Phil predicted an early spring -- or did he? Only his handler knows for sure.
Punxsutawney Phil predicted an early spring -- or did he? Only his handler… (David Maxwell / EPA )

Big court case Tuesday.

I’m talking, of course, about Punxsutawney Phil, the weather-forecasting groundhog. 

Seems that Mike Gmoser, a prosecutor in Ohio’s Butler County, had indicted Phil last week for erroneously predicting an early spring in his annual Groundhog Day appearance Feb. 2. But after Phil’s handler, Bill Deeley, fell on his groundhog sword and confessed that he had misinterpreted the woodchuck’s forecast -- that he had not seen his shadow -- the prosecutor dismissed his case.

Proving again that justice is blind -- and so, apparently, are groundhog handlers.

But really, don't blame Deeley. Sure, as president of the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club's Inner Circle, he fumbled Phil's forecast. But at least he didn't get bitten.

Now, here in sunny SoCal, we’re not so concerned about what a woodchuck thinks about winter. When we want snow, we drive to Big Bear or Mammoth or Tahoe. Sometimes we even carry chains, although we don’t know how to put them on. Nor can we drive in the white stuff -- or rain either, for that matter.

But I guess if you live in Ohio, and you’ve just been hit by another snowstorm, then the false promise of an early spring -- even when delivered by a hairy little animal with sharp teeth -- might be enough to send you around the legal bend.

Although Gmoser’s seeking of the death penalty did seem a bit much. After all, as my colleague Tina Susman reported, “According to, since Punxsutawney Phil began issuing predictions in 1887, he has been correct about 39% of the time.”

Which is a much higher percentage than say, someone like Karl Rove and his prediction in the 2012 presidential election, and no one called for Rove’s balding head on a stick (or whatever you do with a groundhog’s head).

So, put away those “Phree Phil” T-shirts, woodchuck workers of the world.   

But if you live in Ohio or other parts back East, you probably want to keep those snow shovels handy.

Meanwhile, for those of us in SoCal, can someone pass the sunscreen?


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