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Brr! LI groundhogs predict 6 more weeks of winter

Malverne Mayor Patti McDonald, left, with groundhog 'Mel'

Malverne Mayor Patti McDonald, left, with groundhog 'Mel' at the 15th annual groundhog day ceremony in Malverne. (Feb. 2, 2010) Credit: Newsday / Karen Wiles Stabile

Based on astronomic and scientific factors, humans have declared the end of winter March 20.

"That's the spring solstice this year, right?" said Matt Scalora, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Upton, showing his knowledge of the Gregorian calendar.

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

In chilly, 20-degree temperatures at the Brookhaven Ecology Center & Animal Preserve in Holtsville, about 150 people, many of whom were frosty-breathed children bundled up in winter attire, showed up for Hal's 7:25 a.m. appearance.

In revealing Holtsville Hal's prediction, amid only a few forced boos, John Rouse, Brookhaven superintendent of highways, said, "He grumbled a bit. It was a little early for him, too."

In Malverne, at the gazebo at Reese Park, Mel concurred with his squirrely Suffolk County counterpart. "I'd rather have an early spring, but I guess it's nice for people who like winter sports," Malverne Mayor Patricia Norris-McDonald said.

Of the local species of Marmota monax who dabble in winter forecasts, only Staten Island Chuck did not see his shadow, which means he foresees an early arrival of springlike weather.

But what does Chuck know? After all, snow is possible as early as Tuesday evening.

For Tom Kines, a meteorologist with in State College, Pa., the whole groundhog thing is pretty, uh, predictable. It has to do with timing.

The groundhogs who pop up annually with weather predictions do so the first part of every February, or about six-to-eight weeks from the summer solstice. Shadow or not, it's going to remain cold or begin to turn a little milder, Kines agreed, just because of the season.

Kines joked the groundhog is "always accurate" because "he comes to us the night before and we tell him what to say."

In the case of Hal and Mel, it's the first time since 2004 the two have agreed on a forecast, when both saw their shadows.

Hal has five consecutive seasons of seeing his shadow, according to a check of Newsday records. And Punxsutawney Phil has seen his shadow 99 times since 1886.

"Right about this time of year, we hear a lot about it," Kines said of Groundhog Day. "I think it's fun, and as long as people want to have fun with it, that's great."

Like Kines, Harry Smith of Patchogue, a New York City stagehand, puts little stock in the weather predictions of groundhogs.

"But we're kind of glad to hear what Hal says," Smith said, as two of his three children, Rose, 12, and Noah, 7, roamed near the groundhog's cage. "We want the snow because we haven't had a chance to do any sledding this winter."

Joseph Sherman of Mastic Beach also shrugged off the concept of groundhog predictions and said the outing is more about parents sharing time with their children. Sherman and his son, Noah, 7, have been to three of Hal's big performances.

"We also just like to come to the park," Sherman said, "and we do it about 10 times a year."

Groundhog Day dates to 1886 in Punxsutawney, and its roots are Pennsylvania Dutch and German.

Tradition has it that if the groundhog sees his shadow, we will be subjected to six more weeks of winter. If he does not see his shadow, then springlike weather is supposed to arrive before the spring solstice.

The real weather experts predicts normal winter weather over the next two months.

For February, Long Island's mean temperature is slightly less than 31 degrees, Scalora said. For March, it's slightly more than 37 degrees.

Apparently, the groundhog is no more specific regarding long-term predictions than the weather forecaster.

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