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Long Island's groundhogs don't see shadows, predict early spring

Local groundhogs Malverne Mel and Holtsville Hal, their handlers say, did not see their shadows Saturday — and neither did the region's other famous groundhogs. During events at Reese Park in Malverne and the Holtsville Ecology Site and Animal Preserve, local officials explained the groundhog legend, and why they expect an early spring. Credit: Jessica Rotkiewicz, Debbie Egan-Chin

It's unanimous: No shadows were spotted by Long Island's resident groundhogs and their brethren in Pennsylvania and New York City, meaning winter's days are numbered.

Malverne Mel, Holtsville Hal, Staten Island Chuck and the revered Punxsutawney Phil predicted an early spring to relieve this week's polar vortex. 

For her 12th and final time as the mayor of Malverne, Patricia Ann Norris-McDonald held an ear trumpet up to her village’s beloved groundhog and listened to his prediction. Before a crowd at Crossroads Farm, she announced the good news.

“This being my last time with Malverne Mel, I’m glad that everything worked out well and that there’s going to be an early spring,” McDonald said.

A long line formed inside to catch a glimpse of the groundhog, who’s about 2 years old and was found wandering around the village, according to his handler, Bruce Berger.

Brian Connor, of Lynbrook, brought his three children to see Mel, but Brian, 4, Andrew, 5, and Ella, 8, were more interested in the free hot chocolate and pastries being served nearby.

“It’s a great event for the community to come together," Connor said, "but I was hoping for a couple more snowstorms before spring."

The tradition began in Malverne 24 years ago under former Mayor Joseph Canzoneri, who said he wanted to do something to “put Malverne on the map.” Every year since, Malverne’s mayors have braved the cold, donned top hats and broadcast Malverne Mel’s predictions.

“It’s something that brings a lot of life to the area,” Canzoneri said. 

Groundhogs aren’t always the most reliable forecasters, but perhaps they are on to something this year. According to the National Weather Service, the thermometer's on the rise over the next few days, and temperatures could hit as high as the mid-50s on Tuesday.

National Weather Service meteorologist David Stark, based in Upton, said the next six to 10 days will be milder than usual as residual cold from the polar vortex — which left the United States late Thursday to move into Canada — leaves the area. 

“Mother Nature follows her own schedule," Stark said. "We still have another month of what we consider meteorological winter. … It doesn’t necessarily mean that spring is right around the corner.”

News 12 Long Island meteorologist Bruce Avery bucked the trend set by the groundhogs, saying he expected at least six more weeks of winter.

Don't tell that to Holtsville Hal and the furry prognosticator's followers.

Thelma Aranza of Smithtown and her family joined more than a hundred people at the Town of Brookhaven Holtsville Ecology Site and Animal Preserve by 7:01 a.m. as they awaited Hal's arrival.

“I’m very excited. My son said he's not feeling his toes right now, so he can’t wait for spring, either,” said a laughing Aranza, who was celebrating her birthday by spending the day with her children, Charles, 11,  and Anthony, 9,  as well as her fiance J.C. Treacy.

Christine Edwards and her husband, Craig Edwards,  were no strangers to the Holtsville ceremony, having visited for several years.

The Holtsville couple and their children Sierra, 15,  Dakota, 14,  and Savanna, 12,  were big fans of the event, all of them wearing decorative brown Groundhog Day hats designed like cartoon groundhogs, which they ordered online and then custom-fitted themselves with “paws” to cover their ears.

"The crowd seemed bigger this year,” said Christine Edwards. 

Craig Edwards said he was more than ready for warmer weather.

“I’m just wondering if it’s going to be the winter without snow, which would be nice,” said Craig Edwards. “We’d like to believe it. The last few winters have been pretty crazy.”

With Stefanie Dazio

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