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Groundhogs clash over US weather prognosis
by Staff Writers
New York (AFP) Feb 2, 2012

Hollywood star and weather seer Punxsutawney Phil used to be the only groundhog that mattered in weather predicting, but Phil's shock decision Thursday that spring is still six weeks away put him out on a limb.

As the eastern United States enjoys an exceptionally mild winter, most would have guessed that spring is around the corner. But when Punxsutawney Phil emerged from his burrow Thursday, his handlers announced he was able to see his shadow. According to tradition, that signals six more weeks of winter.

Nothing if not self-assured, the clever groundhog, whose persona starred in a Bill Murray comedy "Groundhog Day," immediately updated his Facebook page: "6 MORE WEEKS OF WINTER!!!!!!"

The ritual in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania risked provoking skeptics, whether children looking forlornly at their unused sleds, or adults sweltering on their way to the office in winter overcoats.

As it happens, last year, in the thick of a particularly savage, snowy winter, Phil perkily suggested that he hadn't seen his shadow and therefore relief was around the corner. Maybe not so clever.

Americans might start paying more attention to Phil's often overlooked competitor Charles G. Hogg, the resident groundhog at Staten Island Zoo in New York City.

On being dragged out of his burrow Thursday in the presence of Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Chuck, as he's commonly known, did not see his shadow -- meaning, of course, that currently mild temperatures will stay that way right up until the official start of spring.

CBS reports that Chuck, who provoked admiration in some quarters when he bit Bloomberg's hand in 2009, has been more right than wrong since the Staten Island tradition started in the 1980s.

This year, even lesser rivals in Georgia and Ohio also reportedly failed to see their shadows, piling more pressure on poor old Punxsutawney Phil. It must be enough to make him want to slink back into hibernation.

In Washington, newcomer Potomac Phil -- a stuffed groundhog -- saw his shadow Thursday amid unseasonably balmy temperatures, in his inaugural prognostication at the bustling Dupont Circle roundabout.

"It looks like there are a lot of shadows out here folks. Six more weeks of winter and nine more months of gridlock in Congress," quipped city council member Jack Evans amid 150 spectators, WTOP all-news radio reported.

Groundhog Day, which falls each year on February 2, started with a German tradition in which farmers monitored the animal's behavior closely to make decisions about when their fields should be planted.

Punxsutawney held its first Groundhog Day in the 1800s, according to the official website.

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163 dead as cold snap grips Europe
Warsaw (AFP) Feb 2, 2012
A cold snap kept Europe in its icy grip Thursday, pushing the death toll to 163 as countries from Ukraine to Italy struggled with temperatures that plunged to record lows in some places. Entire villages were cut off in parts of eastern Europe, trapping thousands, while road, air and rail links were severed and gas consumption shot up during what has been the severest winter in decades in som ... read more

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