Groundhog Day is February 2, every year. The spring equinox is on March 20, a little more than six weeks later. The season of winter is about three months - or 12 weeks - long. If you're good at math, you probably already see my point, but humor me, please.
Centuries ago, Germans decided to pick a day halfway into the winter and an adorable, small animal to which they ascribed some level of intelligence, and watch it come out of its den to see whether or not it saw its shadow on that day every year. Why they didn't just look for their own shadows, I have no idea. Regardless, that tradition was carried across the Atlantic to Pennsylvania. Instead of a hedgehog as in Germany, the settlers found groundhogs in Penn's woods. Thus, we have Groundhog Day in the United States instead of Hedgehog Day. Personally, I think hedgehogs are a little cuter, but nobody asked me.
If the rodent of your choice sees his shadow on February 2, the interpretation is that we will have six more weeks of winter. If he does not, then expect an early spring, or so the folklore goes. Apparently, rodents have alarm clocks and calendars in those little dens of theirs. They wake up every second day of February for the sole purpose of checking the weather. Obsessive little creatures, aren't they?
Of course, if they really wanted to be technical, they'd let themselves sleep in. If they really counted weeks, they'd see that astronomical spring would start in about six weeks anyway.
As a meteorologist and a person who really doesn't enjoy cold weather, I prefer to use the climatological start of spring, which is March 1. It doesn't make the winter any shorter since climatological winter starts on December 1. While everyone is counting their six weeks after Groundhog (or Hedgehog) Day, I only have four weeks more. So, you see, you don't just have the option of what critter to stalk, you have the option of which version of season measurement to use.
No matter how you measure it - whatever arbitrary day you pick for hopefully logical reasons - does the first day of spring automatically bring warmth and blossoming flowers? Hardly.
If you choose March 1, in central North Carolina, you actually have a decent chance of seeing an ice storm that day. If you choose March 20, the day could be toasty or it could be pretty chilly. Our record coldest low temperature on March 20 in Raleigh was 22 degrees Fahrenheit in 1923. Our record warmest low temperature was 65 degrees in 1948, and that year also holds the record for the warmest high temperature of 88 degrees. The coldest high temperature in Raleigh for the date was recorded in 1981 at 41 degrees.
In case you're wondering, Punxsutawney Phil, the most famous and long-lived of all forecasting groundhogs, saw his shadow in 1923, 1948 and 1981.
Why do meteorologists have a problem with Groundhog Day really? My reason is simple: I doubt anyone has held Phil, or our local rodent Sir Walter Wally, accountable for his missed forecasts they way they hold us accountable for ours.