It’s not just Phil — who are Groundhog Day’s other furry forecasters?

While Phil is America’s longest-predicting groundhog, he’s certainly not the only one.


Bob Will

Dunkirk Dave sits outside his burrow at his handler’s home in Dunkirk, New York.

The groundhog crawls from his burrow into the wintry morning air. He looks down at his paws, scanning the snow for any faint darkness cast by his body, but he finds nothing. So he looks up to his handler and chatters — in Groundhogese — and the man translates the groundhog’s words to the congregation huddled around him. Spring is right around the corner, he announces.

The crowd isn’t gathered at Gobbler’s Knob, though, and the groundhog promising early spring isn’t Punxsutawney Phil. It’s Dunkirk Dave, resident prognosticator of the Lake Erie community of Dunkirk, New York. And Dunkirk Dave is just one of many groundhogs across America who have followed in Phil’s weather-predicting pawprints.

Phil made his first forecast in 1887. Dunkirk Dave’s handler, Bob Will, said Dave follows Phil as America’s second-longest prognosticating groundhog with over 60 years of predictions. Jimmy the Groundhog of Sun Prairie, Wisconsin, has predicted the weather for about as long, starting in 1948. Other groundhogs, like Georgia’s Gen. Beauregard Lee, began forecasting more recently — he debuted in 1981.

Punxsy’s Groundhog Day ceremony features hours of events and a crowd of 40,000, but other ceremonies differ. Will said his is much smaller and is “certainly not as widely known.” But despite this, he added, Dunkirk Dave trumps Phil at correctly predicting the weather. He said Dave is right over 90 percent of the time.

“We always say that our groundhog is more accurate because he’s running around and can actually see his shadow, but in Punxsutawney, the groundhog can’t do that because it gets held up in the air,” Will said. “They hold it up in the air and twist it around, and I don’t know if the groundhog even knows what’s going on.”

Will is not just Dave’s handler, but also his owner, as Dave lives with Will during the year. He makes his Groundhog Day prediction in Will’s backyard, emerging from a groundhog-sized house to give his forecast.

Sun Prairie’s Feb. 2 festivities, however, are a town event like Punxsy’s. Paul Esser, the city’s mayor, said people start trickling into downtown Sun Prairie’s Cannery Square at around 6 a.m., where local entertainment typically performs until the 7 a.m. prediction. Esser said he joins other dignitaries up on risers to read an introduction before starting “the magic time.”

“Our groundhog Jimmy is in a cage, and we have him up on the platform with us,” Esser said. “I ask him the forecast, and he tells me what his forecast is. If you listened, you would just hear chattering, but I speak Groundhogese. I deliver his forecast in English, and then we have a person there to translate his forecast into Spanish and into Hmong.”

Ike English
Gen. Beauregard Lee surveys his Antebellum-style mansion at Dauset Trails Nature Center in Jackson, Georgia.

In Jackson, Georgia, Gen. Beauregard Lee delivers his prediction from Dauset Trails Nature Center, where he lives during the year. Ike English, the nature center’s director, said this will be the General’s third prediction from his current home — until Dec. 2017, he lived at the now-closed Yellow River Game Ranch in Lilburn.
On Groundhog Day, English said, a bugler plays “Reveille” to awaken Gen. Lee. But what actually awakens the General, English added, is something tastier.

“One neat thing is that Waffle House is based in Georgia,” he said. “They help out with the ceremony. The story goes that the smell of Waffle House hash browns gets him out of bed.”

After Gen. Lee wakes up, his assistant passes out a scroll from inside the Antebellum-style mansion where he lives. English, the master of ceremonies, then delivers the General’s forecast to the crowd.

While Punxsy defines itself by its ties to Groundhog Day, other groundhog towns vary in their support. Jackson has only hosted Gen. Lee for three years, English said, so promoting Groundhog Day is “relatively new” to the community at large. He said that although the holiday “is not as big a deal as in Punxsutawney,” it’s beginning to catch on. Jackson’s businesses have started to advertise it; for instance, the local Dairy Queen allows customers to bet on the General’s prediction and win a free small Blizzard if they guess correctly.

Sun Prairie, which calls itself the “Groundhog Capital of the World,” has hosted Jimmy since his first prediction in 1948. Sun Prairie’s Business Improvement District, which oversees the city’s downtown, formally sponsors Groundhog Day. The city government posts information about the holiday on its website, Esser said, but it does little else to promote Groundhog Day during the year. Instead, Esser said Sun Prairie is better-known locally for the Sweet Corn Festival it holds in August.

“Here in Sun Prairie, Groundhog Day is literally one day and really one hour,” he said. That’s kind of it. People go to work right after it’s over, and kids go to school.”

Groundhog Day is “underutilized” in Sun Prairie, Esser said, and he added that he wants to increase its importance in his city. He said he intends to hire someone to “do more with Groundhog Day” and extend its reach.

Phil is the original face of Groundhog Day, and he has been featured in a film, a Broadway musical and The Oprah Winfrey Show. But his counterparts have received distinctions of their own: Gen. Beauregard Lee has an unofficial “Doctor of Weather Prognostication” degree from the University of Georgia and a “Doctor of Southern Groundology” degree from Georgia State University, while National Geographic Kids named Dunkirk Dave an “animal superstar” in a 2013 issue.

Paul Esser
Jimmy the Groundhog bites former Sun Prairie, Wisconsin, mayor Jonathan Freund while making his prediction.

Jimmy hasn’t won any awards, but he received national media attention in 2015 after biting then-mayor Jonathan Freund during his prediction.

“I was about five feet away when the groundhog bit him,” Esser said. “I was so impressed with that man because most people might have expressed some profanity, but Mayor Freund did not say a word. That was pretty classy.”

English, Esser and Will said their relations with Phil are mostly positive. English said his daughter, Ivy English, runs Gen. Lee’s Twitter account and has engaged in “some good back-and-forth” with Phil’s account. He said this friendly competition is important “as long as it’s in good taste.” Esser said Sun Prairie envies that the time zone difference means Phil predicts the weather an hour earlier, “stealing the limelight” from Jimmy. He said this rivalry is “all in good fun,” though, and he added that he admires Punxsy’s pageantry. And although Will said Phil’s method of predicting the weather is more inaccurate than Dave’s, he said the Groundhog Club “does a great job” with him.

Will, who has cared for and studied groundhogs for nearly his entire life, said groundhogs’ ability to emerge from the ground and predict the weather “is quite amazing.” He said Groundhog Day is a fitting way to mark the exact midpoint of winter, adding that he and the people who attend his ceremony enjoy doing it. English added that groundhogs’ ability to capture hearts everywhere — whether in Pennsylvania, Georgia or somewhere else — deeply impresses him.

“It’s amazing that this little critter has developed such a huge holiday,” he said.