The Search for the Next Groundhog

By Amber Bai

Every February 2, many of us gather to watch the beloved Groundhog Day ceremony unfold: the designated groundhog is awoken from its hibernation and, depending on whether it sees its shadow, the groundhog will predict whether we get six more weeks of winter or if an early spring is just around the corner. Groundhog Day dates to 1887 when residents of Gobbler’s Knob in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, used groundhogs to predict weather patterns. Today, Groundhog Day is celebrated in the United States and Canada with Punxsutawney Phil of Pennsylvania continuing to be the most well-known groundhog.

Sadly, New Jersey’s Groundhog Day celebrations were canceled last year when the widely cherished groundhog, Milltown Mel, died just a few days short of February 2. Mel’s death was first broadcasted in a Facebook post describing him as “recently crossed over the rainbow bridge”. This post pays condolences to Mel, who had a fulfilling life after predicting weather patterns for New Jersey for three years consecutively. 

In addition, Mel’s wranglers claimed that he lived to be five-years-old, which is a relatively long time considering the average lifespan of a groundhog is three years. Mel’s wranglers added, “Mel left us at a tough time of year, when most of his fellow groundhogs are hibernating… so no babies will be available to replace him until this Spring.” 

Despite the promise of finding a new groundhog, the Groundhog Day celebration was canceled yet again this year due to difficulties finding a replacement for Milltown Mel. An updated Facebook post claims, “We have been trying to find a replacement that the state will approve of, but we could not make it happen in time for this year.” The seemingly simple task of finding a new groundhog is more complicated than it seems. For example, the groundhog must be checked by the New Jersey Department of Fish and Wildlife to make sure that it was not taken from the wild due to the threat of a variant of rabies. As the search for a new Milltown Mel continues, wranglers and audiences alike have turned to neighboring groundhogs, Punxsutawney Phil and Dunkirk Dave of New York, for their annual weather forecastings.