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Groundhogs Shubenacadie Sam, Wiarton Willie offer clashing weather predictions

Shubenacadie Sam looks around after emerging from his burrow at the wildlife park in Shubenacadie, N.S. on Feb. 2, 2018.

Andrew Vaughan/THE CANADIAN PRESS

Canada's famous forecasting groundhogs have issued differing opinions on whether the country will be in for an early spring or continuing frigid temperatures.

In Ontario, Wiarton Willie called for six more weeks of winter, but Nova Scotia's Shubenacadie Sam expects a quicker onset of warmer weather.

According to long-standing legend, a groundhog who sees his shadow after emerging from his den predicts that another six weeks of winter are on the way. One who does not is purported to be forecasting an early end to the cold season.

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In Wiarton, Ont., the latest incarnation of Willie saw his shadow as he came out of his den on Friday, bringing bad news for those weary of frosty conditions.

It was the first Groundhog Day in the spotlight for this particular rodent, who assumed the mantle of Wiarton Willie last September when his predecessor died after an unusually long 13-year life.

Janice Jackson, mayor of Wiarton, said the new Willie was well-equipped to carry on the long-standing Groundhog Day tradition in the central Ontario town.

"He told me not to sweat it, because he's been trained very well," Jackson told a cheering crowd before announcing Willie's forecast in temperatures of -18 C that made spring feel like a distant prospect.

Out east, however, Shubenacadie Sam, Canada's other famous furry forecaster, did not see his shadow as he toddled around a small white barn in a Nova Scotia wildlife park.

Cheers erupted from the crowd lining the fence as the chubby brown rodent — described on his own Twitter feed as a "nape enthusiast, melon lover, digger of tunnels and weather prognosticator" — stayed outside his den and portended an end to winter.

"His shadow he did not see and that means we will get an early spring," a crier announced to the crowd.

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Sam's morning saw a brief dramatic moment when he started to clamber up the fence around his enclosure. A CBC reporter who rushed to stop the rodent from escaping shared a photograph and video online of a small bite he got on his hand in the process.

South of the border, the handlers of Punxsutawney Phil, Pennsylvania's most famous groundhog, said he too was calling for six more weeks of winter.

Thousands of people gathered overnight to await the forecast, bundled up against the cold and entertained by folk music and a fireworks display, with temperatures around -12 C.

Phil's prediction is decided ahead of time by a group of handlers on Gobbler's Knob, a tiny hill just outside Punxsutawney, about 100 kilometres northeast of Pittsburgh.

Groundhog Day folklore dates back centuries to a medieval Christian tradition known as Candlemas.

Participants would light candles about halfway through the winter season to bring light to a dark and dreary time and eventually developed superstitions about the weather conditions on festival day.

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Various cultures documented those superstitions in rhymes that essentially told the same tale. The most succinct of these rhymes is attributed to Scottish tradition. It simply says: "If Candlemas Day is bright and clear, there'll be two winters in the year."

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