Believe it or not, all of the commotion in this photo -- the huge crowd, the reporter, the man in the top hat -- is caused by what looks like an oversized squirrel in top hat man's arms. It's actually a groundhog known as Punxsutawney Phil, and each year on Feb. 2, for more than a century, a groundhog like this one has been brought out before the crowd in Punxsutawney, Pa. As the story goes, if Phil sees his shadow, it means six more weeks of winter weather. If he doesn't, then it means an early spring is on the way. This year the famous groundhog saw no shadow and predicted an early spring. He did not however predict whether the nearby Pittsburgh Steelers will win Sunday's Super Bowl.
The party starts long before sunrise in Punxsutawney, as thousands gather to find out whether winter will linger long or make a hasty retreat.
Punxsutawney Phil isn't above letting his likeness be used for promotional merchandising purposes. Hopefully he gets a cut of the proceeds from the big party that precedes his appearance.
As you might imagine, the men in tuxedos and top hats have a special place in the groundhog day apparatus. They belong to the inner circle, the group in charge of taking care of Phil throughout the year and also planning the yearly festivities. In this 2012 photo, the group is reading aloud a proclamation that the celebrated groundhog did NOT see his shadow and that six more weeks of winter were ahead.
The groundhog day festivities take place in Gobbler's Knob, a wooded area a couple of miles outside of Punxsutawney. Here a pair of revelers seeking a souvenir get their picture taken in front of the entrance.
Actor Bill Murray, no stranger to unusual roles throughout his career, played the lead role in a film that brought worldwide fame to the groundhog day festivities in Punxsutawney. The movie "Groundhog Day" starred Murray as a newscaster stuck in a hellish temporal loop, where each day plays itself out exactly as did the last. It's safe to say the term "groundhog day" has even entered the lexicon: If you're stuck in a day of repetitive tasks, just tell people you're having a groundhog day -- they'll know what you mean.
Sonny and Cher's 1965 single "I Got You Babe" reached more ears than it had in many years when it was featured prominently in "Groundhog Day." Each morning of his awful, repeating day, Bill Murray's character wakes up to the song playing on his alarm clock. "I Got You Babe" hit #1 in the U.S. and U.K. in the summer of 1965, the same year as this far-out photo was taken.
Groundhogs are also known as woodchucks or marmots. They're the largest members of the squirrel family and can climb trees, as well as swim. They'll typically weigh about 13 pounds (6 kilograms) and hibernate in underground burrows after the first frost. They'll eat grasses, plants, fruits and even tree bark.
A groundhog prepares to retreat into its burrow.
Finally, of course, we could be forgiven for wondering about the accuracy of the "predictions" made by everyone's favorite furry meteorologist. Is Phil a reliable indicator of continuing winter drudgery vs. the flowering of an early spring? There's a reasonable data sample from which to draw, as Phil and his various incarnations have been at this game for more than 100 years, starting in 1887. His batting average for predictions is about 39 percent, according to LiveScience. Does that mean the little fella doesn't know what he's doing? We could ask him, but it's doubtful we'd understand his answer. And, anyway, where's the fun in holding him accountable?