US groundhog Punxsutawney Phil predicts early spring

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Punxsutawney Phil Says an Early Spring Is on the Way

PUNXSUTAWNEY, Pa. (Reuters) -- Punxsutawney Phil, the Pennsylvania groundhog renowned for his ability to forecast the onset of spring, did not see his shadow after emerging from his burrow on Tuesday morning, predicting an early spring.

Phil's prediction came at about 7:25 a.m. and was met with cheers from a crowd of thousands who participated under a clear sky and 21-degree Fahrenheit (-6.1 Celsius) temperatures in the folk tradition that has been embraced by winter-weary Americans for more than a century.

According to legend, if Phil sees his shadow on Groundhog Day, Feb. 2, the cold weather will not loosen its grip on North America for six weeks. But if the morning is cloudy and no shadow appears, spring-like weather is supposedly around the corner.

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US groundhog Punxsutawney Phil predicts early spring
Groundhog Club co-handler John Griffiths holds Punxsutawney Phil during the annual celebration of Groundhog Day on Gobbler's Knob in Punxsutawney, Pa., Tuesday, Feb. 2, 2016. The handlers say the furry rodent has failed to see his shadow, meaning he's "predicted" an early spring. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)
Groundhog Club co-handler Ron Ploucha holds Punxsutawney Phil during the annual celebration of Groundhog Day on Gobbler's Knob in Punxsutawney, Pa., Tuesday, Feb. 2, 2016. The handlers say the furry rodent has failed to see his shadow, meaning he's "predicted" an early spring. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)
Groundhog Club co-handler Ron Ploucha, right, holds Punxsutawney Phil, as club vice-president Jeff Lundy, left, holds the scroll during the annual celebration of Groundhog Day on Gobbler's Knob in Punxsutawney, Pa., Tuesday, Feb. 2, 2016. The handlers say the furry rodent has failed to see his shadow, meaning he's "predicted" an early spring. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)
A large crowd watches as Groundhog Club co-handler John Griffiths, right, and Voce-President Jeff Lundy, center left, stand beside the container that holds Punxsutawney Phil during the annual celebration of Groundhog Day on Gobbler's Knob in Punxsutawney, Pa., Tuesday, Feb. 2, 2016. The handlers say the furry rodent has failed to see his shadow, meaning he's "predicted" an early spring. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)
A sign for Punxsutawney Phil is help up during the annual celebration of Groundhog Day on Gobbler's Knob in Punxsutawney, Pa., Tuesday, Feb. 2, 2016. The handlers say the furry rodent has failed to see his shadow, meaning he's "predicted" an early spring. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)
Groundhog Club co-handler Ron Ploucha holds Punxsutawney Phil during the annual celebration of Groundhog Day on Gobbler's Knob in Punxsutawney, Pa., Tuesday, Feb. 2, 2016. The handlers say the furry rodent has failed to see his shadow, meaning he's "predicted" an early spring. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)
Wooden carvings of top hat wearing groundhogs are for sale at an annual craft show in the square in Punxsutawney, Pa., Monday, Feb. 1, 2016. That is part of the town's annual celebration of Groundhog Day on Feb. 2. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)
Groundhog Club handler Ron Ploucha holds Punxsutawney Phil, the weather predicting groundhog, during the annual celebration of Groundhog Day on Gobbler's Knob in Punxsutawney, Pa., Monday, Feb. 1, 2016. Phil's handlers said that the groundhog has forecast (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)
A group of visitors to Punxsutawney, Pa. pose for pictures and take selfies with the "Punxsutawney Phil" mascot outside the Punxsutawney Public Library, Monday, Feb. 1, 2016. Thousands of people come to Punxsutawney for the annual celebration of Groundhog Day on Gobbler's Knob on February 2. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)
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The event, which typically brings out 30,000 revelers to the small, west-central Pennsylvania town, has become a television staple at the beginning of one of the coldest months of the year in the U.S. Northeast. In addition to the celebrated rodent, the pageant features an entourage of city elders in old-fashioned dress and top hats, presiding over the festivities.

The organizer, the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club, is touting the 2016 event as "Phil's 130th prognostication," although technically it is not the same groundhog every year but one picked to represent the character.

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Club spokeswoman Katie Donald said 1886 was the first year that the club trekked to Gobbler's Knob in Punxsutawney and the groundhog delivered a weather forecast. Media coverage of the event started the following year, she said.

"We go by the first trek, 1886," Donald said.

The event's website, Groundhog.org, notes that "groundhogs are one of the few animals that really hibernate. Hibernation is not just a deep sleep. It is actually a deep coma."

This year's Phil, however, has not whiled away the winter underground like most of his species, also known as woodchucks.

Instead, Phil and his handlers from the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club Inner Circle made cameo appearances on Jan. 23 at Pittsburgh's Penn Brewery for the unveiling of its "Punxsutawney Philsner" draft beer and at a Pittsburgh Penguins hockey game.

While he is still the most famous of the weather-forecasting groundhogs, Phil has had to compete a host of imitators in recent years. New York City, for example, has a groundhog of its own that has generated more than its share of controversy.

The 2009 groundhog bit the hand of then-Mayor Michael Bloomberg during the annual Feb. 2 ceremony.

Five years after that, the groundhog was the injured party, when a groundhog named Charlotte fell hard to the ground after she wriggled out of the grasp of Mayor Bill de Blasio. The animal died of internal injuries a week later.

This year de Blasio will skip the event. Instead he is traveling to Iowa to campaign for Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton ahead of the state's Feb. 1 nominating caucuses. He will not return to New York until Tuesday evening, his office said, long after the groundhog is out of harm's way.

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