Groundhog Day: LI guys see 6 more weeks of winter

Malverne Mel the groundhog disappointed onlookers with his prognostication of six more weeks of winter. Videojournalist: Jim Staubitser (Feb. 2, 2013)

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Hold on to your hats and mittens. Long Island's furriest, four-legged meteorologists have called for six more weeks of winter.

In a unanimous decision, the region's resident groundhog forecasters, Malverne Mel and Holtsville Hal, both saw their shadows Saturday -- a sign that colder temperatures will linger.

But hope may not be lost for those rooting for an early spring. Neither Pennsylvania's Punxsutawney Phil, the nation's most acclaimed rodent climatologist, nor Staten Island Chuck saw his shadow, predicting an early end to winter.

In Malverne's Reese Park, however, Mel's prognostications prompted loud boos and calls for a recount from among the crowd of several hundred who braved frigid temperatures.

"I think he got it wrong this time," said Kathleen Nealon of Malverne, who attended the ceremony with her daughters, Mairead, 7, and Kaitlin, 4.

Six-year-old Mario Agopian was also among the disappointed. "I'm upset," said Mario, of Malverne, who came to the festivities with his mother, Jakki. "I really thought we were going to get an early spring."

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But Andre Ricaud, who cares for Mel year-round, claims the groundhog, who awoke Sunday from a hibernation, is rarely mistaken. "He's got a very good track record," said Ricaud. "Much better than Punxsutawney Phil."

At the Town of Brookhaven's Wildlife and Ecology Center, families -- including some hard-core fans -- awoke early to catch Hal's prediction.

The Maki family of Baiting Hollow has come for six straight years, clad in furry groundhog hats they ordered from a website for Punxsutawney Phil. They had redesigned them for Holtsville Hal.

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Mary Maki brought her twins, Sean and Ryan, 10, who attend Riley Avenue Elementary School in Riverhead. When the event falls on a weekday, the twins report Hal's prediction over the school's loudspeaker. Sean said he will give a brief report to his classmates on Monday: "He saw his shadow."

While some were disappointed, others were just grateful to see Hal after the wildlife center nearly closed last year during tense budget negotiations. Greg Drossel, an animal handler who has worked the event for at least 15 years, said Hal would have had to find a new place to live.

The O'Connell family of South Setauket was grateful they did not have to travel to Pennsylvania for their groundhog fix. "We should stay local," said Kim O'Connell, who contemplated a long ride to Gobbler's Knob to see Punxsutawney Phil.

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