Punxsutawney Phil declared six more weeks of winter this morning. The famed groundhog came out of his stump to see his shadow just after sunrise, at about 7:22 a.m.
Groundhog Day festivities started as early as 3 a.m. as a crowd gathered on Gobbler's Knob in Punxsutawney, Pa. The fireworks display started at 6:30, followed by the members of the Punxsutawney Inner Circle announcing Groundhog Day birthday wishes.
Phil also had a deal for those who couldn't make Gobblers Knob for his annual call of the winter: Text "Groundhog" to 247365.
The pudgy prognosticator apparently has a nose for the value of social networking. About 17,000 people had already signed up for Phil's text, Mickey Rowley, the deputy secretary for Pennsylvania tourism, said. If you send the text, you'll receive a copy of his forecast delivered to your mobile:
"Hey, saw my shadow. I hereby do predict 6 more weeks of winter. Last one to a PA ski lodge is an opossum. -- Phil"
The Pennsylvania Tourism web site also offered a live webcast of the morning's event through to the groundhog's debut on VisitPa.com. You were also able to keep up with the crowds on Facebook and Twitter.
Every year, Punxsutawney, Pa., and the world wait eagerly to find out if the groundhog will see his shadow. If he dashes back from seeing his shadow, we're stuck with six more weeks of winter. If he sticks around above ground, then spring is around the corner.
The tradition dates back to the 18th century, when winter was long and bleak, according to Bill Cooper, former president of the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club.
German folklore originally had the badger or hedgehog as the seasonal predictor, but in Pennsylvania, the groundhog became the harbinger of spring.
"He's just like us and wants spring to arrive. Phil is interested in looking for some fresh greens and anxious to find romance," Cooper said.
But never has a performer been so dedicated to his fans on Gobbler's Knob. Over 124 years, Phil has been faithful to his fans and keeps us on the edge of our seats with his weather prediction.
While the Internet is buzzing about Grammy awards, Phil is one star who never misses his yearly performance. Beyonce's succes at the Grammys, where she scooped up six awards, may be a hot Web trend. But the singer pales in comparison to Phil's impressive record as "Groundhog of the Year" since 1887. And Groundhog Day consistently surfaces as the hot Web topic as Feb. 2 approaches.
Groundhog Day Fever
Tourists from Germany, Scotland, Australia and around the world travel to Punxsutawney for the Groundhog pilgrimage, according to Cooper. In 1997, 40,000 visitors came to Punxsutawney on the weekend of Phil's film debut. He starred as himself alongside Bill Murray in the film based on his life, "Groundhog Day."
With "Groundhog" stardom, Phil also has his dabble in controversy. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) wants to give Phil a holiday.
The group is advocating to replace the beloved furry weather forecaster with a robotic groundhog instead. They want Phil to retire from the stress and pressure as thousands gather at Punxsutawney, in anticipation of the critter's appearance. Rowley expects about 16,000 visitors on this cold Tuesday morning.
Cooper and the Groundhog Club society assured ABCNews.com that Phil is very well cared for. By law, he has to go to the doctor twice a year. He lives in a controlled habitat at the Punxsutawney Public Library, has no predators and a longer life expectancy than groundhogs in the wild.
"He doesn't show stress and we know not to stress him. We don't expose him too long [on Groundhog's day]," Cooper said.
Rowley also added that the attraction is for an authentic experience and "what people yearn for that isn't animatronic."
"The experience would not be the same without the real groundhog. It's a thoroughly enjoyable event. There's nothing about it that doesn't bring a smile to everyone," Rowley said.
Punxsutawney, a small town with a population of 6,000, loves to share its German tradition with visitors. At Groundhog.org, the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club keep people who are interested in the tradition and legend of Phil connected. Cooper adds that the group is also developing an educational section on the Web site for teachers to use as learning resources.