First, the bad news: Woodstock Willie, the Chicago area's best-known four-legged weather prognosticator, saw his shadow Monday morning, dooming us to six more weeks of winter.
The good news? Groundhogs may be adorable furry creatures, but when it comes to meteorological prophecies their record falls short of their reputation.
Even so, Willie's declaration drew groans and boos from the hundreds gathered on the historic Woodstock Square Monday morning to re-enact the scene, and location, made famous by the Bill Murray comedy "Groundhog Day." The prediction came at exactly 7:09 a.m. as Willie emerged from his tree stump and passed along the bad news to Woodstock Mayor and groundhog translator Brian Sager.
"Willie emerged reluctantly, and a little feisty, I must say, but alertly, and stated in Groundhog-ese: 'I definitely see a shadow,'" Sager told the crowd.
The crowd's unhappy response was understandable, as a nearby bank sign reading 18 degrees served as a reminder that this has been one of the coldest and snowiest winters in recent memory. But the declaration couldn't put a complete damper on the highlight of the city's annual Groundhog Day festival, or the spirits of people who traveled from across the Chicago area to witness it.
Among them were newlyweds Karl and Susanne Angerer of Evanston, who began attending the event when they started dating three years ago and took off work Monday to enjoy the celebration together.
"Anybody can do Valentine's Day," Karl said.
"We like the movie and like groundhogs," Susanne added. "It's fun and dorky."
Jon Meierhoff of Morton Grove has been coming to the event with family for about five years, calling it a nice break from the midwinter doldrums.
"We love coming up here," he said. "It's a good time."
As for this year's prediction from Willie, Meierhoff figures shadow or no shadow, the wintry weather isn't going away anytime soon.
"One way or the other, we're getting another six weeks of winter."