HOPE – The moment that the playfully-nicknamed “Groundhog Groupies” were forced to squint to address Thursday’s crowd, there was no question about the prediction from the 10th annual Groundhog Day event in downtown Hope.
Near the bandstand in the Hope Town Square, long-time “groupie” Dave Miller spoke the traditional words that began the short ceremony.
“Hope. Awake from your slumber and tell us the news. If your shadow we see, six more weeks of the blues. If no shadow is in sight, all will rejoice. Spring will be soon. Oh, tell us your choice.”
Making her third annual appearance, the star groundhog named Hope did seem irritated about being awakened from her hibernation. But after resisting being lifted from her box with a few squeals of protest, the woodchuck relaxed in the arms of Utopia Wildlife Rehabilitators education coordinator Beth White.
Unlike the Inner Circle in Pennsylvania who pick up Punxsutawney Phil by the scruff of the neck, the Groundhog Groupies in Hope do things more delicately.
Still in White’s protective arms, Hope “whispers” her prediction to her, who quietly passed it on to long-time “groundhog groupie” Michael Dean.
A long-time leader of the Heritage of Hope organization, it was Dean’s responsibility to tell everybody what they already knew.
“The groundhog has spoken. It now can be told. Her shadow she sees. Six more weeks of cold,” Dean said with an solemn and slow-paced delivery.
In response, the audience acted out their own part by feigning disappointment – at least for a few seconds. Moments later, there appeared to be a sea of smiles and laughter that made its way to warmth and refreshments inside the nearby Willow Leaves restaurant.
While attendees seemed amused that Punxsutawney Phil made the same prediction at Gobbler’s Knob, the folklore had already taken a back seat. Organizers have long emphasized their event is intended to get folks to socialize and enjoy each other’s company in the dead of winter.
Another positive element was that the festivities were held in the recently-renovated Hope Town Square.
“This is central Indiana at its finest,” Glenn Petri of Columbus said. “I don’t think there’s a better place in Indiana. This is where this event needs to be.”
It was also a jovial ceremony for the return to an in-person event.
In 2021, the event was off-limits to the general public and moved to the Utopia facility due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The few in attendance said it was one of the coldest Groundhog Days they could remember.
Last year’s event was also still on many minds. After an all-day rain forced the 50 people in attendance to move to the shelter house, Bartholomew County was hit hours later by the worst winter storm of the season. Nearly eight inches of snow fell that became mixed with sleet and freezing rain.
In contrast, everything went off without a hitch Thursday morning.
“The weather was pretty miserable last year, but we have sunshine today and people seem pretty excited to be out,” said Richard McCoy.
Not only is there no threat of a snowstorm at this time, but meteorologists are calling for afternoon highs to rise in the 50s for most of next week.
But what about the long-term weather outlook we get from science, rather than folklore?
A few mild days early this month could make it feel like spring. However AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist Paul Pastelok warns that winter coats and snow shovels may still be needed periodically – even after the first day of meteorological spring (March 1).
“Don’t be fooled,” Pastelok said. “There’s still some winter left this season that may last into spring, and we could be talking about snow in March.”