By LEE POWELL, Associated Press
PUNXSUTAWNEY, Pa. (AP) - The world's most famous groundhog predicted an early spring Wednesday, but wasn't willing to go out on a limb to forecast whether the nearby Pittsburgh Steelers will win Sunday's Super Bowl.
Punxsutawney Phil emerged just after dawn on Groundhog Day to make his 125th annual weather forecast in front of a smaller-than-usual crowd who braved muddy, icy conditions to hear his handlers reveal that he had not seen his shadow.
Including Wednesday's forecast, Phil has seen his shadow 98 times and hasn't seen it just 16 times since 1887, according to the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club's Inner Circle, which runs the event. There are no records for the remaining years, though the group has never failed to issue a forecast.
Two years ago, Phil's forecast also acknowledged the Pittsburgh Steelers' Super Bowl XLIII win the night before. This year, Sunday's game was mentioned in the forecast but no winner was predicted between the Steelers and the Green Bay Packers, who meet in Dallas for Super Bowl XLV.
"The Steelers are going to the Super Bowl," Mike Johnson, vice president of the Inner Circle, said just before the forecast was read, drawing cheers from the clearly partisan crowd gathered on Gobbler's Knob, a tiny hill in this borough of about 6,100 residents some 65 miles northeast of Pittsburgh.
The Groundhog Day celebration is rooted in a German superstition that says if a hibernating animal casts a shadow on Feb. 2, the Christian holiday of Candlemas, winter will last another six weeks. If no shadow was seen, legend said spring would come early.
In reality, Pennsylvania's prophetic rodent doesn't see much of anything. The result is actually decided in advance by 14 members of the Inner Circle, who don tuxedos and top hats for the event.
The celebration usually draws 10,000 to 15,000 spectators when it falls on a weekday, Groundhog club spokesman Luke Webber said. The area was under a winter weather warning and while heavier snows and sleet never materialized, rain falling in about 35-degree temperatures made for a below-average crowd, said Webber, who offered no specific estimate.
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)