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LI groundhogs fail to bring us an early spring

When it comes to those fearless, furry prognosticators, groundhogs aren't so fearless after all.

At least that's how forecasters - the human ones - view it. The whole groundhog thing is pretty, uh, predictable, they say.

It has to do with timing.

The groundhogs that pop up annually with weather predictions do so about six to eight weeks before the vernal equinox, which this year marks the start of spring on March 20. In mid- to late-March on Long Island, it's typically cold, sometimes mild - it depends on the day.

"It's a transition from the winter months," said Phil Bachmann, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Upton. "It's very subjective," he said. "It's hard to verify if it's winter still or not winter anymore."

This March, there's "an equal chance of above and below normal for temperatures," Bachmann said. "Which means basically it's normal."

Holtsville Hal and Malverne Mel - along with arguably the nation's most acclaimed groundhog, Phil, of Punxsutawney, Pa. - each saw their shadows Tuesday morning, meaning six more weeks of winter is indeed the forecast.

In the case of Hal and Mel, it's the first time since 2004 the two have agreed on a forecast. For five consecutive years, Hal has seen his shadow.

Tom Kines, a meteorologist with in State College, Pa., says the groundhog generally is "always accurate."

"He comes to us the night before," Kines said, "and we tell him what to say."

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