While Punxsutawney Phil receives most of the attention on Groundhog Day, New York has its own official weather-predicting rodent at the Staten Island Zoo.
Staten Island Chuck, whose real name is Charles G. Hogg, comes from a long line of meteorologically gifted groundhogs.
He has been predicting the end of winter for close to five years and before that, his father Chuck G. Hogg Sr. did the same.
"Chuck has been on a roll recently," says Staten Island Zoo General Curator Peter Laline. "But even when he makes a mistake, the kids — and adults too — love him. He's a great teaching opportunity and reminds people to return to the zoo."
This is not a responsibility that Chuck takes lightly. Just ask Mayor Bloomberg, whose finger Chuck nibbled on two years ago during the city's Groundhog Day ceremony.
Chuck and his family have predicted the end of winter weather accurately 23 out of the last 30 years.
The process is very simple. If Chuck peeks his head out of his home at 7:30 a.m. on Feb. 2 and sees his shadow, there will be six more weeks of winter. If he doesn't see his shadow, spring will arrive early.
The Groundhog Day tradition began in the 1800s with the influx of German immigrants who believed that hibernating creatures were able to predict the arrival of springtime.
Just as important as Chuck's forecasting skills is his social disposition. Despite the biting incident with Bloomberg, he is uncommonly friendly for a groundhog.
"Chuck is the ultimate professional," says Laline, who admits the pressure on Chuck is even greater this year due to the harsh, snowy winter. "He's not only good at predicting the weather, but he's also used to a lot of human interaction.
"Groundhogs are not domesticated animals and have sharp nails and teeth. They don't like to be picked up. But Chuck is used to the public eye."
Of course, Chuck, who weighs 10 pounds and loves corn and peanuts, isn't one simply to follow in the footsteps of his father. He recently became the first green groundhog in the world by living in a wireless log cabin complete with a weather station that uses renewable energy from the sun.
Now that he has moved into a bigger home, Chuck might even be looking to give up the bachelor life. In order to lure the right partner, he recently took to the Staten Island Zoo's Facebook page to clean up his public image.
In a video posted on YouTube, he shrugs off the great biting incident of 2009 and calls Bloomberg his "good friend."
As for a sneak peek of his prediction, Staten Island Chuck refuses to tip his hand.
"We all want winter to end early this year," says Laline, "but Chuck predicts the weather, he doesn't control it."
Saturday, January 29, 2011
Posted by Judith at 8:29 AM