Winter is ending in two weeks, at least if you believe what a Raleigh groundhog reportedly said.
Meanwhile, Garner’s groundhog, Snerd, predicted six more weeks of winter, which is in line with those of well-known groundhogs around the country, including the famed Punxsutawney Phil.
The crowd in downtown Raleigh cheered as Mayor Nancy McFarlane revealed Wally’s verdict, shortly after clouds rolled over the crowd, thus preventing Wally from seeing his shadow.
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“I’m fluent in groundhog now. We chatted a little bit,” said McFarlane, who noted she was advised by former Raleigh Mayor Charles Meeker to “learn to speak groundhog” after taking office.
Snerd, the Garner groundhog, revealed his prediction to Garner Mayor Ronnie Williams at White Deer Park, also at noon.
According to a tradition developed in Pennsylvania, winter will come to an early end if a groundhog emerges from its burrow and fails to see its shadow on Feb. 2, the precise midpoint of astronomical winter. If the shadow is spotted, the surrounding area is in for another six weeks of winter.
Wally has gained prominence among weather-divining rodents in recent years. The Weather Channel ranked him seventh among the nation’s groundhog forecasters in a 2016 survey. Parade magazine just named him one of five “groundhogs to watch” this year.
Wally’s 58 percent accuracy rate since 1998 has outstripped that of Punxsutawney Phil, who has accurately predicted winter’s departure a mere 37 percent of the time – worse than chance.
“We judge (Wally) at the end of every winter based on North Carolina’s weather,” said Bradley Allf, the museum’s educational events specialist. “We look at the average temperature and see if it’s been higher or lower than average for this time of year.”
Last year, Wally correctly predicted an early spring.
The museum held groundhog-related festivities all morning, and the shadow ceremony drew a crowd of schoolchildren from around the region.
Julie Clary and Sharyn Gibson, teachers at Cary’s Peace Preschool, have been bringing their classes to the ceremony for the past seven years. This time, they made their pupils brown felt groundhog hats, but not everyone was pleased with Wally’s prediction.
“We have at least one disappointed groundhog,” Gibson said, pointing to a child glumly sitting on the ground, still wearing his groundhog hat. “He wanted more winter.”
Garner weighs in
Snerd was out to prove his bona fides in his third year on the job. He began his tenure by wrongly predicting an early spring in 2015, then redeemed himself last year with a correct prediction.
Thursday, none of that mattered as scores of children criss-crossed the field between the main stage and the Nature Center at White Deer Park and parents chased behind them.
The large crowd made crafts, played games and met a variety of birds on display inside the Nature Center.
At noon, Mayor Williams, dressed in his traditional tuxedo, tails and top hat, gathered with Snerd on the main stage as the crowd assembled to hear the prognostication. Snerd was chewing on a bite of banana and wearing his own top hat and bow tie as handler Kindra Mammone lifted him to Williams’ ear to get the final weather word.
Williams reported Snerd’s assessment: “We will have one more bout of winter to contend with, and then the world will blossom anew as spring brings light, colors and hope for the new seasons to come.”
Snerd, a younger groundhog, has methods that differ from those of his predecessor, Mortimer. Garner’s beloved groundhog emeritus retired in 2014 after eight years. He correctly predicted winter’s length in seven of those outings.
Instead of checking for his shadow in the traditional manner, Snerd is said to consult almanacs and the internet as he makes his prediction.
“(Snerd) just had to come into his own,” said Katie Spencer, Garner’s Outdoor Education and Parks Manager. “He just had big shoes to fill with Mortimer. But we think he’s got his process down at this point.”
Johnny Whitfield contributed.
Gargan: 919-829-4807; @hgargan