The sun shimmered through the trees Saturday morning, a direct contrast to the bone-chilling, single-digit temperatures that had onlookers at West Virginia State Wildlife Center shivering with more than just anticipation as they awaited the emergence of a furry forecaster.
But as the countdown to French Creek Freddie's end to winter hibernation began, the sun ducked behind the clouds, erasing any hopes of the groundhog seeing his shadow, and bringing a prediction of an early spring.
"It was touch-and-go there for a while," said Gene Thorn, a wildlife biologist at the DNR facility.
The Inter-Mountain photos by John Wickline
The mascot of the West Virginia State Wildlife Center, French Creek Freddie, watches as his real-life namesake playfully scurries about its pen Saturday after predicting an early spring.
Thorn proudly pointed out that on Groundhog Day 2012, Freddie predicted an early spring, and by theend of the day, the sun had peeked through and temperatures climbed into the 50s. By the third week of March, the temperatures had soared to 81 degrees.
"He's always right," Thorn said.
French Creek Freddie has been making his annual prognostication at the Wildlife Center since 1978. The Groundhog Day tradition dates back to early Europe's Candlemas Day.
Candlemas Day marks the traditional midpoint of winter, a day marking the halfway point of the shortest day of the year and the spring equinox. Feb. 2 was the day of the year that the candles that were to be used in the church had a blessing said over them. It was believed that if the sun made an appearance on Candlemas Day, the hedgehog would cast a shadow, which people believed signaled another six more weeks of winter.
Early Europeans also believed the bear and the badger could make the same forecast.
A traditional proverb from the time stated that "if Candlemas Day be fair and bright, Winter will have another fight. If Candlemas Day brings clouds and rain, Winter won't come again." Another proverb, this one pertaining to farming, stated that "a farmer should on Candlemas Day, have his corn and half his hay. On Candlemas Day, if the thorns hang adrop, you can be sure of a good pea crop."
German settlers in early America brought the tradition with them, but instead opted to use the groundhog because it was much more plentiful in North America than the hedgehog.
America's most famous groundhog, Punxsutawney Phil, also on Saturday predicted an early spring.