US groundhog 'indicted' over wrong spring forecast
CINCINNATI – The Associated Press
A man shovels snow on Commonwealth Avenue following a storm that left as much as a foot of snow in some areas March 8, 2013 in Boston, Massachusetts. AFP PhotoAmerica's most famous groundhog might want to go back into hibernation.
Punxsutawney Phil is facing a "criminal indictment" for falsely predicting an early spring. Tradition has it that winter will end quickly if the rodent sees his shadow after emerging from his western Pennsylvania lair on Feb. 2, a ceremony that dates back to the 19th century and was immortalized in the Bill Murray movie "Goundhog Day."
Poor Phil saw his shadow this year, but his prediction was dead wrong. Shivering Americans are vilifying him on social media and one prosecutor in Ohio is even filing charges.
"Punxsutawney Phil did purposely, and with prior calculation and design, cause the people to believe that spring would come early," Mike Gmoser, the prosecutor in southwestern Ohio's Butler County, wrote in an official-looking indictment.
Gmoser wrote that Punxsutawney Phil is charged with misrepresentation of spring, which constitutes a felony "against the peace and dignity of the state of Ohio."
The penalty Phil faces? Gmoser says - tongue firmly in cheek - is death.
Punxsutawney Phil, who does not have a listed phone number, could not be reached for comment.
Bill Deeley, president of the Punxsutawney club that organizes Groundhog Day, said Phil has a lawyer and would fight any extradition attempt by Ohio authorities.
Deeley defended his fur-bearing associate and said the death penalty was "very harsh" given the nature of the allegations.
"We'll have to plead our case one way or the other, but I think we can beat the rap," Deeley said.
Deeley said the backlash has raised fears for Punxsutawny Phil's safety and special security precautions are in place around his home, Gobbler's Knob.
"Right next to where Phil stays is the police station," he said. "They've been notified and they said they will keep watching their monitors."
Winter has been dragging on in Ohio and surrounding areas, with daily high temperatures this week hovering in the mid-30s Fahrenheit (around -1 degrees Celsius) and no end in sight for about 10 days, said Don Hughes, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Wilmington, Ohio.
A storm moving into the region Sunday could bring between up to 8 inches (20 centimeters) of snow, he said.
"It's taking too long," Hughes said, adding that he's hearing plenty of complaints from colleagues and neighbors about the late spring. "Most people I've talked to say they've had enough. They want spring. They're looking for colors and sunshine and Easter lilies."
The frigid temperatures and snow might be particularly hard to swallow after last spring, when the U.S. saw the warmest March in recorded history.
Hughes said this spring isn't nearly the coldest on record but that the area is about 5 degrees below normal.
Gmoser's indictment made no mention of a possible co-conspirator in the false prediction of early spring, Ohio's own forecasting groundhog, Buckeye Chuck.
Chuck also failed to see his shadow when he emerged from his burrow on Feb. 2.