In a small Pennsylvania town Thursday morning, a group of men held a groundhog in the air and claimed that it had seen its shadow, predicting six more weeks of winter weather.

Regardless of what Punxsutawney Phil or any other rodent says, six more weeks of winter are pretty much the typical situation for West Michigan.  The average date for the last snowfall of an inch or more in Grand Rapids is March 21st, which is nearly seven weeks from Groundhog Day.

Of course, it was Groundhog Day in 2011 that brought one of the biggest snowstorms in recent memory to the area; the average snowfall from the start of February through the end of the season is about two feet.

Overall, relatively mild and mainly dry weather will prevail in West Michigan through the first week of February.  Medium range computer forecast models continue to indicate that colder, Canadian air and some lake-enhanced snows could occur later next week around the 10th, and again shortly after Valentine’s Day.

According to old European folklore, if it is cloudy when a groundhog, hedgehog, or badger emerges from its burrow on this day then spring will come early.  If it is sunny, the prognosticating animal will supposedly see its shadow and retreat back into its burrow, and there will be six more weeks of winter.

The probable early origin to Groundhog Day is the pagan celebration of Imbolc which marks the beginning of spring in early February.  It is celebrated most commonly on the 1st or 2nd of February in the northern hemisphere during the time of year when sheep give birth and are nursing their young.  These dates fall approximately halfway between the Winter Solstice and the Spring Equinox.  This would have been a good time for ancient people to assess the severity of the winter and attempt to anticipate the arrival of more favorable spring weather.