PUNXSUTAWNEY — Appropriately beginning a day that pretty much saw all forms of weather — wind, snow, freezing rain, fog and sunshine — in the Weather Capital of the World, Punxsutawney Phil stunned shivering and wet fans at Gobbler's Knob and proclaimed Wednesday that no, he did not see a shadow, and yes, an early spring is on its way.
"The sky is clear; prepare yourself for warmth," Inner Circle Vice-President Mike Johnston said following Punxsy Phil's prognostication, which came on the heels of severe winter storm warnings for the Midwest, Pennsylvania, New York and the Northeast.
Sounds like six more weeks of winter, right? Not so, according to Punxsutawney Phil.
For Jackie and Jon Lovitch — donning alarm clocks around their necks, beckoning Ben Hughes' bling of choice from several years ago — of Pittsburgh, Punxsutawney was the only place to be for Groundhog Day, even if that meant sacrificing warmth for the experience.
"It was a mild irritant, but we'll deal with it," said Jon, who first read about Groundhog Day in a 1992 edition of Reader's Digest and has made the trip from Washington, D.C., New York City and his hometown of Kansas City, Mo. "We're not driving all this way to watch it on TV."
Daniel Gaeblev and Betina Bamberg, of Stuggart, Germany, traveled to Punxsutawney to celebrate their birthdays that are sort of around the holiday: Gaeblev's was Dec. 26, and Bamberg's is Monday.
Like others, the rain was not bothering them, but noted that they were prepared.
"It's not bad with good clothes," Gaeblev said.
Closer to home, Linda Silko and her grandson, Mike Adair, grabbed a good-sized umbrella and made the trip from Blairsville.
Silko, who was attending her sixth Groundhog Day, always knew the event was going on up the road, but wasn't inspired to attend until people at her job in construction, which requires travel, asked her about it when she would reveal that she is from Pennsylvania.
"So I decided I better come here," she said.
Silko also said she started coming to Groundhog Day with her youngest granddaughter, who is now 20. The youngest grandchild is only 12, so she'll have to wait a few years, she said.
"We enjoy it," Silko said. "It's always a good time. They have good hot chocolate."
Indeed, a tall cup of hot chocolate would have been in order, as freezing rain and wind hit the crowd a few times Wednesday morning. At one point, Inner Circle members reported it was 33 degrees — far warmer that some of the coldest Groundhog Days, but feeling even colder with the freezing rain and wind.
With the PIttsburgh Steelers again preparing for a Super Bowl around the same time as Groundhog Day, the audience came equipped with signs, jerseys and, of course, Terrible Towels.
Even Punxsy Phil got in on the fan-wagon, noting prior to his prognostication, "The Steelers are going to the Super Bowl!"
Johnston indicated that he thought the crowd was much smaller than usual years — like those without freezing rain and wind — perhaps around 5,000 to 7,000 people.
Despite the smaller crowd, however, Inner Circle members lauded Phil's faithful for their enthusiasm amid the elements, with Fair Weatherman Jeff Lundy congratulating the crowd for "weathering the storm."
Here ye, here ye, here ye
On Gobbler's Knob, on this beautiful Groundhog Day, Feb. 2, 2011,
Punxsutawney Phil was raised from his burrow by the call of President Bill Deeley.
He greeted his handlers, Ben Hughes and John Griffiths,
And after casting an inquisitive eye toward thousands of his faithful followers,
He proclaimed, "The Steelers are going to the Super Bowl!"
He surveyed his surroundings carefully,
And found that there was no shadow around.
So an early spring it will be.