Arguably the most famous of all weather-predicting animals, this furry rodent is held in such high esteem that it boasts a holiday, a fan club and a hit film to boot (the Bill Murray flick "Groundhog Day," in case you've been hiding in a hole of your own). On Feb. 2 of every year, people around the U.S. fix their collective gazes on their regionally appropriate groundhog, with Punxsutawney Phil in Pennsylvania being the most celebrated. If Phil emerges from his hibernation hole in the ground to see his shadow (yielded by a sunny day), that means six more weeks of winter. If the day is cloudy, and therefore shadow-prohibitive, it indicates an early spring.
The legend dates back centuries to the European tradition of Candlemas Day, on which clergy would bless and hand out candles to the people. The idea developed that a cloudy Candlemas Day predicted an early spring, and vice versa. At some point, the Germans took it a step further and randomly decided that a shadow-casting hedgehog was predictive of a longer winter. When a significant number of Germans immigrated to Pennsylvania they assigned the groundhog with its cousin's storied responsibilities [source: The Punxsutawney Groundhog Club].
Analysis of data from 1999 to 2012 showed groundhogs accurately predicted winter's end four times in 13 years, which isn't exactly impressive [source: Evans]. Unless Phil has cosmic pull over cloud cover, it's safe to say that he has little to no idea about impending weather. Still, the tradition is all in good fun. Plus who doesn't need a little hope to hold onto in the frigid winter months?