Buckeye Chuck, Ohio’s official weather-prognosticating groundhog, does not live what anyone would consider a tough life; after all, he’s called upon to work only one day a year.
But oh, that one day: Groundhog Day, February 2 — the day the entire world watches with bated breath to see what he sees when he comes out of his den.
The legend goes that groundhogs emerge from their winter nap each year on that date to gauge the weather. If it’s a cloudy day and they don’t see their shadow, winter is essentially over. But if it’s a sunny day and they do see their shadow, supposedly it scares them back into their burrow for six more weeks of winter.
There is a little fact behind the myth. Groundhogs hibernate, but they are light sleepers, and during breaks in winter weather when temperatures rise a bit, they are known to come out looking for something to eat.
Buckeye Chuck makes his annual grand appearance and weather forecast from WMRN radio station in Marion. He became the state’s official weather-prognosticating groundhog in 1979 by proclamation of the Ohio legislature — and new generations of Buckeye Chucks have kept it going for 37 years.
And though Scott Shawver, the WMRN station manager, claims that “everyone knows Buckeye Chuck really lives in the woods behind the radio station,” Chuck’s keeper is Craig Kokas, who lives near the village of Green Camp in Marion County and is a member of Mid-Ohio Energy Cooperative.
Kokas runs Kokas Exotics, a state-licensed animal breeder and dealer that also has lemurs, foxes, and lots of other animals. When asked what Buckeye Chuck does to prepare for his one big day each February, Kokas said, “Eat and sleep. And then when winter comes, he goes into hibernation and sleeps even more.”
Kokas said he nearly lost Buckeye Chuck once when he got loose. But disaster was averted when he found him wandering around the yard, eating. “He’s really pretty tame,” said Kokas, “almost like a pet, so he didn’t go far.”
America’s most famous groundhog is Pennsylvania’s Punxsutawney Phil, who has been making his prognostications since 1887. He greets the national press at sunrise each Groundhog Day from atop Gobbler’s Knob. But Phil is not always pleased to be dragged from his warm winter den for such human foolishness. As a result, he has a tendency to bite. Buckeye Chuck, being a much more refined and well-behaved groundhog, would certainly never do such a thing.
Besides being a bit cheeky, Punxsutawney Phil is also not very accurate with his weather forecasting, being correct only about 39 percent of the time.
Buckeye Chuck, on the other hand, claims about 75 percent accuracy — though what constitutes an early spring can be a matter of personal judgment.
Will his weather prediction this year prove true? We’ll know soon enough.
W.H. “Chip” Gross is Country Living’s outdoors editor.