Wally's verdict: Winter won't end early

Staff WriterFebruary 3, 2008 

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Sir Walter Wally, the Triangle's official groundhog, saw his shadow just after noon Saturday, foretelling six more weeks of winter.

Sir Walter was pulled from a cage in front of a crowd at the N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences in downtown Raleigh. Mayor Charles Meeker conferred with Wally briefly and made the official pronouncement.

As the legend goes, if a groundhog emerges from hibernation on Feb. 2 and sees his shadow, he ducks back into his hole to ride out six more weeks of winter. No shadow means an early spring.

Wally offered no comment on the drought.

THE ANIMAL

Groundhogs, also known as woodchucks and whistle pigs, are rodents that bulk up on clover and other vegetation in the fall before retiring to their underground burrows for a long snooze. While hibernating, their heart rate and body temperature plunge.

THE TRADITION

In the mid-18th century, German immigrants in Pennsylvania brought to the United States the tradition of watching the groundhog for signs of spring. They chose Feb. 2, the Christian holiday of Candlemas.

THE OTHER PREDICTIONS

Sir Walter's prognostication jibes with that of Punxsutawney Phil, the granddaddy of weather-forecasting rodents, who saw his shadow Saturday morning in Pennsylvania. But North America is now thick with celebrity groundhog soothsayers, and at least four others -- Gen. Beauregard Lee of Lilburn, Ga.; Nova Scotia's Shubenacadie Sam; Jimmy of Sun Prairie, Wis.; and New York's Staten Island Chuck -- all failed to see their shadows, meaning an early spring.

THE TRACK RECORD

In the 10 previous years that Sir Walter Wally has been consulted about the coming of spring, he has been correct six times, according to the Museum of Natural Sciences.

"That's not bad for a weather forecaster," said John Connors, an educator with the museum.

THE WEATHER

Saturday's high: 61; 10 degrees above normal

Saturday's low: 29; 1 degree below normal

THE SONG

GROUNDHOG SONG*

I saw a little groundhog,

He came out in the sun,

And when he saw his shadow,

Back home he had to run.

I wish he hadn't seen it,

Now I am very blue.

There's six more weeks of winter,

For him and me and you.

* Sung to rouse Sir Walter Wally from his slumber.

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