Six more weeks of winter, says Canada's famous albino groundhog

Wiarton Willie in his box
© K Martinko -- Apparently this Willie is rowdier than his predecessors, hence the box.

Wiarton Willie saw his shadow this morning, which means the cold weather will stick around.

Canada's most famous groundhog, Wiarton Willie, has spoken. He saw his shadow, which means there will be six more weeks of winter! The little albino prognosticator made his announcement just past 8 o'clock this morning, whispering to the mayor of the town of Wiarton, Ontario, who translated it from the Groundhogese, which apparently is a prerequisite for the job.

The crowd was delighted by Willie's prediction. Prior to the announcement, an informal poll had revealed that the majority of attendees were hopeful winter would continue for another six weeks. I share their sentiment. As someone who loves bitter cold temperatures, I surely hope Willie is right about this.

It was frigid in Wiarton today, with the wind chill bringing the temperature down to -25C (-13F). Despite this, an impressive crowd gathered for the Groundhog Day festivities. It kicked off with fireworks at 7 a.m., an unusual sight in the early morning darkness and pretty much the greatest way to start any day. At the main stage, a fiddle-guitar duo entertained the growing crowd, later replaced by a DJ playing top 40 tunes and accompanied by a troupe of dancers. The crowd tried to stay warm by dancing along, our collective breaths making white clouds of steam in the air all around, as we waited for Willie's appearance.

This particular Willie is new to the job. His predecessor passed away in September 2017, after 11 years of making annual predictions. This is an impressive amount of time, considering that a groundhog's life expectancy in the wild is only four years. At the time of his passing, mayor Janice Jackson said of the old Willie:

"He was a real sweetie. It was really fun working with him. He clearly responded to people around him and especially his caretaker. It was really remarkable how bonded he was to his caretaker. Willie's daily care regimen coupled with living in a safe and protected environment allowed Willie to reach the ripe old age of 13."

The town always has an understudy ready to go. In this case, the new Willie was found two years ago in Ontario's Oro-Medonte township, spotted by a child in his backyard. He was removed to Wiarton in preparation for today, when he made his big debut.

Wiarton Willie crowd© K Martinko -- A crowd gathered despite -25C weather

The new Willie was wide awake and curious in his glass box when he was brought out on the stage. He poked around in the straw and seemed unperturbed by the spotlights and cameras rolling around him.

Willie's prediction for six more wintry weeks matched that of his southern colleague, Punxsutawney Phil in Pennsylvania, but differed from Shubenacadie Sam, Canada's other famous groundhog from Nova Scotia. Sam, in fact, made headlines today by attempting to climb the fence of his enclosure and make a run for it, only to be blocked by a nearby news reporter.

While groundhogs' accuracy at predicting spring's arrival is known to be poor in real life (Melissa wrote yesterday that Punxsutawney Phil has only a 52 percent success rate), the tradition of celebrating them continues -- and I maintain that having something to celebrate in the dead of winter, cold and darkness notwithstanding, is important.

Wiarton Willie's big day is something my kids and I look forward to each year. If it weren't for him, what other reason would we have to bundle ourselves up till we resemble snowmen and head outdoors to watch fireworks, dance outside, and drink hot chocolate first thing in the morning?

Six more weeks of winter, says Canada's famous albino groundhog
Wiarton Willie saw his shadow this morning, which means the cold weather will stick around.

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