PUNXSUTAWNEY — Gov. Tom Corbett professed his early spring preferences just prior to Punxsutawney Phil’s 126th annual prognostication early Thursday morning at Gobbler’s Knob, but as history has shown, the Seer of Seer relies on nothing else except his own instinct.
The result, as read by Inner Circle Vice-President Mike Johnston: “As I look at the crowd of Gobbler’s Knob, many shadows do I see; so six more weeks of winter it must be.”
When asked if he was pleased with Punxsy Phil’s prognostication, Corbett replied, “No. Now we’ve got to get PennDOT ready.”
The evening before, at the annual Groundhog Banquet, Corbett implored of Inner Circle President Bill Deeley “Don’t screw up winter. After flooding this past year, I like not having to salt the roads this year.”
Regardless of the prognostication, Corbett — the second seated Pennsylvania governor to attend Groundhog Day, after Ed Rendell in 2003 — praised Punxsy for bringing this small-town tradition to the masses for all to see.
“We’ve always wanted to attend Groundhog Day” Corbett said with his wife, Susan, by his side shortly before Punxsy Phil’s prediction Thursday morning. “It’s a good chance to see what we have here in western Pennsylvania ... c’mon, this is great.
“Today, the world is looking at Punxsutawney, Pa., and how many times does the world do that?” he added. “This is a great day.”
Onstage briefly at Gobbler’s Knob prior to the prognostication, Corbett even led the crowd — estimated between 15,000 and 18,000 people, an impressive number, considering the event landed on a weekday this year — in a chant: “I love Phil, I love Phil ...”
Unseasonably warm temperatures — with highs around 57 degrees Tuesday and Wednesday — looked to be a positive for Punxsy Phil’s annual gathering at Gobbler’s Knob, unlike 2011, when snow, ice and freezing rain kept many revelers indoors. Oddly enough, last year, Punxsy Phil predicted an early spring.
But Thursday saw no rain or snow, just many people who were happy they attended, many of them using the term “bucket list” to describe the goal of attending Groundhog Day before they wind up in a state during which they cannot.
Twins Linda Gray, of Starbrick, and Louise Dyer, of Youngsville, will turn 72 next month, and were celebrating early with Bob Bunce of Washington, D.C., who celebrated his birthday Thursday.
“It’s a warm day, and I’m not going to be any younger than I am today,” Dyer said.
They were accompanied by friends Anita Cohan, also of Youngsville, and Lynn Martin, who created special hats — constructed from Punxsy Phil Beanie Babies and other plush toy parts — for the occasion.
Carol and Leon Pawelak, of Pittsburgh, hadn’t been to Groundhog Day since Feb. 2, 2002 — famously designated as 02.02.02 — and were surprised to see the changes in town since then, such as the addition to the “Phantastic Phils!’ statues.
The weather was also helpful in their decision to attend Thursday, as it was 48 degrees when they left Pittsburgh at 2 a.m.
“It’s 100 percent,” Leon said. “It’s just nice.”
Mike Gladkowski, of Export, said he’s attended Groundhog Day 13 times, “because I’m a faithful follower.”
Other members of the crowd also enjoyed his unique top hat, bearing all the Ty Punxsy Phil Beanie Babies since 2003, except Punxsy Phyllis, because, “I ran out of room.”
Gladkowski was also wary of Punxsy Phil’s six-weeks prognostication, saying, “I had crocuses growing in my yard yesterday.”
Finally, first-time attendee Sharon Wyme, of Boston, wearing a questionable New England Patriots jersey — Tom Brady’s nonetheless — in the heart of Steelers County, ventured to her first Groundhog Day to stake it out for next year’s big occasion, her 60th birthday.
After seeing the experience, she said, “I have to believe in Phil. My name is Sharon Wyme, and I had great time.”