It's official, at least according to America's most celebrated groundhog: spring is around the corner.
In an annual ritual with early roots in German folklore and rather more in US media-showbiz, a Pennsylvania groundhog named Punxsutawney Phil was interpreted Saturday as predicting an early end to winter.
According to his handlers at the ceremony in the town of Punxsutawney, Phil was brought out of his burrow and did not see his shadow, meaning, obviously, that the seasonal shift is in the offing. Had he seen his shadow, winter would have gone on another six weeks.
"And so ye faithful,/ there is no shadow to see/ An early Spring for you and me," Phil announced on his website: www.groundhog.org.
Last year, Phil was said to have seen his shadow and predicted a long winter -- a verdict that caused some controversy among groundhog and weather cognoscenti, given that at the time it felt practically like spring already.
The groundhog, or rather his long line of ancestors and look-alikes bearing the same name, is a national media star and was at the center of the 1993 Bill Murray comedy "Groundhog Day."
Groundhog Day falls each year on February 2, attracting large crowds to the little Pennyslvania town. It 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, which claims to have held its first Groundhog Day in the 1800s, is the undisputed headquarters for the unscientific experiment.
But several wannabe groundhog prognosticators hold sway in other parts of the country, notably in New York City, and also in Washington, albeit with a stuffed Potomac Phil.
The New York rival, Staten Island Chuck, or more properly Charles G. Hogg, agreed with Phil, also missing his shadow on Saturday.
City Council Speaker Christine Quinn petted the furry weatherman, appeared to listen to him, then whooped as she held aloft a banner reading: "S.I. Chuck says spring is coming."
Quinn is widely seen as a front-runner to replace Michael Bloomberg as the mayor of America's largest city later this year. In 2009, Phil bit the multi-billionaire mayor's hand.
Down in the southern state of Georgia, the news was not so welcome. General Beauregard Lee, a groundhog said by his fans to know the weather across the south-east, called for six more weeks of winter.
"Beau sees his shadow! Six more weeks of winter," the groundhog said on his Twitter account, @GameRanch.