Wake County residents who sought the meteorological wisdom of groundhogs Wednesday got a decidedly mixed message.
In downtown Raleigh, Sir Walter Wally saw his shadow shortly after noon, foretelling six more weeks of winter. Meanwhile, at almost the same time, Mortimer the Garner groundhog confided in the mayor that he thought we were in for an early spring.
Legend has it that if a groundhog sees his shadow on Feb. 2, he will be frightened and jump back into his burrow for six more weeks of winter. No shadow means spring is nigh.
Garner Mayor Ronnie Williams wore a tuxedo and top hat as he met with Mortimer at White Deer Park during the town's Groundhog Day celebration, which drew about 500 people. As the sun peered through the pines, the mayor told the crowd that Mortimer doesn't use his shadow to forecast the weather.
"Even though Mortimer won't predict the way some of the more historic groundhogs do, he has good instincts," Williams said. "You see, Mortimer is still a groundhog, and they have a gut feeling about this sort of thing."
Stephanie Shaffer, director of White Deer Park, then held the 7-pound rodent near enough to Williams to whisper a prediction in the mayor's ear.
"Mortimer the groundhog has little to say," Williams said. "But Mortimer thinks that winter is done. ... So out of his house and ready to sing, Mortimer predicts we'll see an early spring."
Not so, according to Sir Walter Wally, who made his prediction in front of several hundred schoolchildren at the N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences.
Also dressed in top hat and tuxedo, museum staffer John Connors began the ceremony exactly at noon, then upped the suspense by treating the children to 10 minutes of groundhog-based tongue-twisters and educational tidbits.
As in: Did you know that groundhogs are also known as whistle pigs?
When the moment arrived, Wally whispered his prognostication to Dee Freeman, secretary of the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources. As Freeman shared it with the crowd, a groan filled the air.
"Dang it!" said Charlie Dvergsten, 9, a fourth-grader at Cameron Park Elementary School in Hillsborough. "I want spring."
Charlie likes to play outside in the warm weather, but said there was another reason he was disappointed in the appearance of Wally's shadow.
"I like shorts," he said, and as a growing boy, "I don't have that many pants that fit me."
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