West Virginia's official weather-predicting mammal, French Creek Freddie, will be roused out of his winter slumber at the West Virginia Wildlife Center this Sunday and asked, in a manner of speaking, whether the state will enjoy an early spring.
As a result of an old Pennsylvania Dutch tradition, groundhogs across much of North America endure this inconvenience every February 2, on Groundhog Day, though Freddie has never indicated he minded so much.
If it's sunny, and Freddie sees his shadow, he’ll return to his burrow and weather another six weeks of winter. If it’s cloudy, and his shadow isn’t visible, the region will enjoy an early spring.
In German-speaking areas where this weather-lore originated, the European badger was the forecasting animal. American badgers, particularly aggressive, do not live as far south as West Virginia and would not tolerate being awakened from hibernation.
Historian and publisher of West Virginia Explorer Magazine, David Sibray says the tale of the badger appears to be derived from a legend that clear weather on Candlemas—a feast traditional among many European Christians—foreboded a longer winter.
"Of course, I can see why they used a groundhog here in North America," Sibray said.
"You wouldn't want to wake an American badger. They're vicious things, and I assure you it wouldn't provide the kind of family-friendly spectacle that waking a groundhog might, though I don't know that spectacle is the right word here, either."
This Groundhog Day event is open to the public and starts at 9:30 a.m. and will provide guests opportunities to tour the West Virginia Wildlife Center, which features nearly 30 different species of native birds, reptiles, and mammals.