MARION, Ohio (WCMH) – Ohio’s most famous groundhog joined his counterpart in Pennsylvania Saturday, predicting an early spring.
Crowds cheered as Buckeye Chuck weighed in during the annual Marion Groundhog Day celebration. The state’s official groundhog has been waking from hibernation and cautiously slipping out of his burrow every Feb. 2 since 1979.
This year, handlers and radio hosts at WMRN presented Chuck to the crowd on an overcast day and determined the prognosticator did not see his shadow.
“The skies are mostly cloudy,” one host announced. “Spring in Ohio is just around the corner!”
The announcement was met with cheers.
“I kind of like both, but I was hoping for an early spring,” said Zeke Klenzman.
Tara Klenzman added, “I was definitely hoping for spring.”
The Groundhog Day tradition can be traced back to ancient European lore, which a hibernating badger, bear or hedgehog would predict the weather.
James Anderson, a naturalist at the Marion County Park District, explained groundhogs were more plentiful in the new world and the practice eventually caught on in Ohio.
“They weren’t as common in pre-settlement times because Ohio was mainly forested. But because we came into Ohio and opened it up and groundhogs said, ‘Hey, let’s expand our range.’ Now you can find them in all 88 counties,” Anderson said.
Many celebrating the quirky holiday recognize it as a fun tradition, rather than a scientific forecast.
“They’re all often wrong. And with our current condition, I think we’re going to see more winter, regardless of what Chuck says,” laughed Rick Balch.
Balch and John Lykins made the trip to Marion from Marysville for the event. The friends have traveled to Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania and Woodstock, Illinois for major Groundhog Day celebrations in recent years.
“We’re big fans of the movie. We’ve watched the movie 30, 40 times… And we always thought when the event fell on a weekend, we’d start traveling to some of the events,” Balch explained.
The friends commented on this year’s unusually warm weather, though many in attendance were bundled up in winter gear and blankets. Hot drinks and SPAM sandwiches kept the crowds warm before sunrise. Many brought non-perishable food items to donate to the local food pantry.
Local residents said they take pride in hosting the tradition each year.
“We’re very fortunate to have THE Buckeye Chuck in Marion,” Anderson said.