Archive for Wednesday, February 7, 2007

Tonganoxie Phil’ predicts six more weeks of winter

February 7, 2007

Say it isn't so Tonganoxie Phil -- six more weeks of winter?
This area's version of Punxsutawney Phil saw his shadow Friday morning -- Groundhog Day -- which, according to German legend, means winter will be around for a while longer.
"When I walked out this morning my shadow was very visible," said Dr. Phil Stevens, who has taken on the role of Tonganoxie Phil for several years. "I walked out on the front porch and there it was big as life."
With temperatures in the teens and low 20s as well as two recent bouts of snow, area residents were probably ready for a winter relief. But, even though the sun was out Friday, melting the snow from earlier in the week, Tonganoxie's clear skies produced startling shadows.
It was crisp and clear this morning, so it's bad news," Stevens said. "I know that little rodent in Pennsylvania didn't see his shadow so they're going to have an early spring, but we're not."
It's true, the original Punxsutawney Phil of Punxsutawney, Pa., a small town about 65 miles northeast of Pittsburgh, did not see his shadow Friday morning. This tradition has been going on in Punxsutawney since 1886 and according to the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club, Phil not seeing his shadow is a rarity. He sees his shadow about 90 percent of the time.
The people of Punxsutawney swear by the groundhog's predictions, stating that he's correct 100 percent of the time. As for Tonganoxie Phil's predictions, well, he said they might not be as accurate.
"I'd say I'm batting at about .500," he said. "That's good in baseball, but not too good in weather forecasting. I'm right about as often as I'm wrong."
The Groundhog Day tradition stems from a German legend. Every Feb. 2, which is also the Christian holiday of Candlemas, it is said that if a hibernating animal emerges from it's den, sees it's shadow and is startled by it, the animal will crawl back into it's den, indicating six more weeks of winter. If the animal does not see its shadow, spring is right around the corner.
Stevens began his career as Tonganoxie Phil several years ago when a local disc jockey from the KBEQ radio station contacted him about it. He said he thinks it started because Tonganoxie sounds a bit like Punxsutawney and perhaps the DJ picked up a phone book selecting the first Phil he came across.
"They used to come out here and interview me in person. They would rattle the door for sound effects and say, 'he's coming out of his cage!'" Stevens said laughing.
Even though the DJ has since moved to another station, Stevens continues to be a good sport about his important role. He said people still ask him about the persona every year and he continues to faithfully walk outside every Feb. 2 to see what kind of weather lies ahead.
"It's my one claim to notoriety," he said. "We've got to have a little fun."

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