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Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania - Punxsutawney Phil, a famed US groundhog with an even more famous shadow, emerged from his burrow on Sunday and predicted six more weeks of winter, much to the chagrin of those hoping for an early spring.
The rotund rodent exited his subterranean residence at Gobblers Knob in the western Pennsylvania town of Punxsutawney at 7.30am on Groundhog Day.
The fuzzy forecaster made his appearance to the shouts of “groundhog”, as eager spectators waited to see whether the groundhog - as the legend goes - would see his shadow and predict six more weeks of snow and freezing temperatures. If not, North Americans can expect an early spring.
This year, Phil predicted that winter will stretch on.
The annual Groundhog Day event, made more popular by the 1993 comedy Groundhog Day starring Bill Murray, draws thousands of faithful followers from as far away as Australia and Russia.
Phil's forecast of six more weeks of winter was bittersweet for some in attendance.
“I happen to be a positive person, so I do embrace the here and now and I will enjoy the next six weeks of winter with the best attitude and be happy to be alive and healthy with my good friends,” said Lori Weber, 54, a real estate broker from Sewickley, Pennsylvania.
Others came out early, braving drizzle and low-light, just to experience the event.
Carrie Juvan, 37, of Cleveland, Ohio came with her father. “We are here having a blast because dad put it on his bucket list. I like snow but I am ready for the spring. He asked me about it months ago and I instantly said yes,” she said.
Phil's forecast even reached the White House, where President Barack Obama's official Twitter account reminded Americans to sign up for health-care coverage under the Affordable Care Act.
“#PunxsutawneyPhil says there's more winter ahead - make sure you get covered,” the tweet said.
Phil's New York counterpart, Staten Island Chuck, also saw his shadow on Sunday, forecasting another six weeks of winter.
New York City's new mayor, Bill de Blasio, was on hand for the event but wasn't able to keep a firm grip on the groundhog, who squirmed free of the mayor's gloved hands - a protective measure used since Chuck bit former mayor Michael Bloomberg in 2009.
Chuck fell to the ground, eliciting a few gasps from the crowd, but he was quickly recovered by his handler.
Groundhogs have been offering weather predictions in the tiny Pennsylvania town of Punxsutawney since 1887. After the movie was released, record crowds numbering as many as 30 000 have been drawn to the event, according to groundhog.org.
With a shadow powerful enough to lift spirits - or dash them - Phil has met with Pennsylvania governors and appeared on national television talk shows and New York City's Times Square JumboTron. In 1986, he even travelled to Washington to meet with President Ronald Reagan, the website said.
Phil's busy schedule is packed into the months before groundhogs, also called woodchucks, go into hibernation - usually after the first frost, according to NationalGeographic.com.
Hibernation is less like a deep sleep and more like a coma, with the groundhog's heart rate plunging, blood scarcely flowing, body temperature dropping to a few degrees above freezing and breathing nearly stopped, said groundhog.org. - Reuters