Sir Walter Wally sees his shadow, predicts more winter
Posted February 2, 2009 4:02 a.m. EST
Updated March 9, 2009 5:12 p.m. EDT
Raleigh, N.C. — The North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences' guest groundhog, Sir Walter Wally, saw his shadow Monday afternoon, predicting six more weeks of winter.
The master of ceremonies pulled Wally out of his box and held him to the ear of Raleigh Mayor Charles Meeker. The mayor interpreted the groundhog's whispers as a prediction for more winter, drawing disappointed boos from the crowd.
This year was the first for the underground oracle nicknamed Mortimer, who lives with an Orange County rescue group. Last year's veteran groundhog was retired.
A German superstition says that if a hibernating animal casts a shadow on Feb. 2, winter will last another six weeks. If no shadow is seen, spring will come early. The Punxsutawney Groundhog Club in Pennsylvania gave it an American twist in 1887, when the club made consulting its rodent seer, Phil, into an annual rite. On Monday, he also predicted six more winter weeks.
Wally got some North Carolina competition – and disagreement – from a potbellied pig named L'il Bit in the home turf of pork barbecue.
In Lexington, L'il Bit snorted a prediction translated as predicting an early spring. Lexington calls its event "GroundHawg's Day" for its porcine predictor.
However, two other North Carolina groundhogs supported Wally's verdict: Woody, at the Animal Discovery Zoological Park at the Natural Science Center in Greensboro, and Gray, at Chimney Rock Park.
Wally has been right 55 percent of the time in the past 11 years, said Kari Wouk, the museum's curator of educational events for the N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences.
Punxsutawney Phil, the world's most famous groundhog, has been right 27 percent of the time.
Phil also saw his shadow Monday when he emerged just after dawn in front of an estimated 13,000 witnesses at Gobbler's Knob, about 65 miles northeast of Pittsburgh. Much of the crowd dressed in black and gold to celebrate the Pittsburgh Steelers' Super Bowl victory the night before.
"There's significant buzz from the Steelers win and quite a few Terrible Towels floating from the crowd," said Mickey Rowley, deputy secretary for tourism in Pennsylvania.
The N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences used its Groundhog Day celebration as a chance to teach school children around the state participating online.
Along with the State Climate Office, staff taught about folk customs for forecasting weather, the science of recording and tracking weather patterns. Lessons included learning that the direction cows stand while grazing, the elevation of migrating geese, the frequency of crickets' chirps and the coloring on woolly worms all have been used to forecast weather.
The fifth annual Lexington event was an unabashed promotional event for the city and to build its reputation for great barbecue, Mayor John Walser said.
Merchants planned sales tied to the event, and high-school cheerleaders egged on the pig's prediction. Lil' Bit's entrance came heralded by a Lexington Senior High School marching band trombonist.