Ohio seeks death penalty for bad groundhog forecast

A shadow of a different kind is hanging over Punxsutawney Phil.

Authorities in still-frigid Ohio have issued an “indictment” against the famed groundhog, who predicted an early spring when he didn’t see his shadow after emerging from his lair in western Pennsylvania on Feb. 2.

Spring arrived Wednesday, and temperatures are still hovering in the 30s in the Buckeye state and much of the Northeast. While it’s not the coldest spring on record, it’s a good 5 degrees below normal, said Don Hughes, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Wilmington, Ohio.

So the heat is on against Phil, and the furry rodent has been charged with misrepresentation of spring, a felony “against the peace and dignity of the state of Ohio,” wrote prosecutor Mike Gmoser in an official-looking indictment.

“Punxsutawney Phil did purposely, and with prior calculation and design, cause the people to believe that spring would come early,” Gmoser declared.

So what’s the penalty?

Death, Gmoser said, tongue firmly in cheek.

That’s “very harsh,” given the nature of the allegations, said Bill Deeley, president of the Punxsutawney club that organizes Groundhog Day. The backlash to Phil’s dead-wrong prognostication has not gone unnoticed in and around his hometown of Gobbler’s Knob, Deeley said, and security precautions are in place.

“Right next to where Phil stays is the police station,” he said. “They’ve been notified, and they said they will keep watching their monitors.”

The chubby-cheeked animal also has his defenders. “Phree Phil!” declared one supporter on his Facebook page. “We’re with you, Phil,” wrote another.

As for spring, there’s no relief in sight from the wintry conditions. A storm moving into the region Sunday could bring between 4 and 8 inches of snow, said meteorologist Hughes.

That might be particularly hard to swallow after last spring, when the U.S. saw the warmest March in recorded history.

While Gmoser’s indictment made no mention of any co-conspirators in the false early spring prediction, the state’s own groundhog forecaster, Buckeye Chuck, also failed to see his shadow when he emerged from his burrow.

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