Wake County

Wake’s groundhogs predict an early spring

Wildlife specialist Denise Shadduck of Tennessee brought Sir Walter Wally outside the NC Museum of Natural Sciences briefly during an inside presentation Monday, Feb. 2, 2015, to see if Wally would see his shadow. Wally did not see his shadow in the cloudy overcast, heralding an early spring for the triangle.
Wildlife specialist Denise Shadduck of Tennessee brought Sir Walter Wally outside the NC Museum of Natural Sciences briefly during an inside presentation Monday, Feb. 2, 2015, to see if Wally would see his shadow. Wally did not see his shadow in the cloudy overcast, heralding an early spring for the triangle. hlynch@newsobserver.com

Though one uses an age-old technique involving his shadow and the other leans more on science, Wake County’s two groundhog weather forecasters came to the same conclusion Monday.

Sir Walter Wally in Raleigh and Snerd of Garner each predicted an early spring.

Mid-18th-century German immigrants in Pennsylvania are thought to have brought with them the tradition of watching the groundhog for signs of spring. They chose Feb. 2, the Christian holiday of Candlemas, and decided that if the groundhog sees his shadow that day, winter will last another six weeks. If not, spring comes early.

Sir Walter Wally sticks with tradition. But with the skies above Raleigh alternating blue and cloudy at midday Monday, his prediction could have gone either way.

A horde of children waited expectantly for the rodent’s wisdom, sprawled out in groundhog hats and headbands across in the theater of the N.C. Museum of Natural Science. As Wally, the Marmota monax, waited in the wings, his audience sang happy groundhog songs and cheered out facts about mammals: “Hair! Live birth!”

Wally, of course, had to get outside to see for himself. So with the children distracted, wildlife specialist Denise Shadduck swept the groundhog out into the streets of downtown Raleigh, to a spot with a view of the sky. The whistle-pig seemed to look lazily around, never trying to escape his handler. Then inside he went to share the news.

Mayor Nancy McFarlane waited on stage with her granddaughter, Madison. Wary of previous biting incidents in local ceremonies, she listened to Wally’s conclusion from a couple feet away.

“Well. Wally had a good time. He went outside, and he said he looked around everywhere, but he did not see his shadow,” said McFarlane, who claims to have learned the groundhog language from former Mayor Charles Meeker.

“Get your T-shirts out,” she said. “It’s gonna get warm soon.”

Meanwhile, in Garner

Garner’s new rodent-in-chief, Snerd, who made his debut Monday, uses more modern methods, he said in a statement through his handler, Vinny Mammone.

“I am a modern groundhog who embraces technology and forward thinking,” Snerd reportedly said. “I have learned about weather patterns and doing research and then using critical thinking to come up with my prediction for spring’s arrival.”

Despite the cloudy skies and threat of rain, the Garner event brought out nearly 100 children and their parents – some in rain jackets and boots – snapping photos of Snerd, and petting him and his understudy, Statler.

Garner Mayor Ronnie Williams, dressed in a black suit and top hat, announced the prediction.

Snerd’s predecessor, Mortimer, has retired, but he still has a hand in the game, according to Mammone.

“He’s still giving advice to Snerd,” he said. “He’ll continue to serve in an advisory capacity. And he’ll be eating nuts and bananas.”

The local groundhog predictions differed from the pronouncement from the granddaddy of all ceremonial groundhogs, Punxsutawney Phil in Pennsylvania, who reportedly saw his shadow Monday morning and forecast six more weeks of winter.

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