Authorities in still-frigid Ohio have issued an “indictment” of the furry rodent Punxsutawney Phil, who predicted an early spring when he didn't see his shadow after emerging from his western Pennsylvania lair on Feb. 2.
“Punxsutawney Phil did purposely, and with prior calculation and design, cause the people to believe that spring would come early,” Mike Gmoser, the prosecutor in southwestern Ohio's Butler County, wrote in an official-looking indictment.
Gmoser wrote that Punxsutawney Phil is charged with misrepresentation of spring, which constitutes a felony “against the peace and dignity of the state of Ohio.”
The penalty Phil faces? Gmoser says - tongue firmly in cheek - is death.
Punxsutawney Phil does not have a listed phone number.
Bill Deeley, president of the Punxsutawney club that organizes Groundhog Day, said Phil has a lawyer and would fight any extradition attempt by Ohio authorities.
Deeley defended his fur-bearing associate and said the death penalty was “very harsh” given the nature of the allegations.
“We'll have to plead our case one way or the other, but I think we can beat the rap,” Deeley said.
The vitriolic backlash on social media to Phil's dead-wrong prognostication has not gone unnoticed in and around Gobbler's Knob, Deeley said, and special security precautions were 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.”
Winter has been dragging on in the Buckeye State and surrounding areas, with daily high temperatures this week hovering in the mid-30s and no end in sight for about 10 days, said Don Hughes, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Wilmington, Ohio.
A storm moving into the region Sunday could bring between 4 and 8 inches of snow, he said.
“It's taking too long,” Hughes said, adding that he's hearing plenty of complaints from colleagues and neighbors about the late spring. “Most people I've talked to say they've had enough. They want spring. They're looking for colors and sunshine and Easter lilies.”
The frigid temperatures and snow might be particularly hard to swallow after last spring, when the U.S. saw the warmest March in recorded history. Highs in the Cincinnati area, for instance, were well into the 80s.
Hughes said this spring isn't nearly the coldest on record but that the area is about 5 degrees below normal.
Gmoser's indictment made no mention of a possible co-conspirator in the false prediction of early spring, Ohio's own forecasting groundhog, Buckeye Chuck.
Chuck also failed to see his shadow when he emerged from his burrow on Feb. 2 in Marion in north-central Ohio.