While the two most high-profile meteorologist rodents in all the land, Punxsutawney Phil and Staten Island's Charles “Chuck” G. Hogg, appeared to be on their best behavior earlier today, one lesser-known woodchuck with a knack for weather prognosticating evidently woke up on the wrong side of the burrow.

During Sun Prairie, Wisconsin's 67th annual Groundhog Day celebration, Jimmy the Groundhog pulled a Mike Tyson on Mayor Jon Freund at which point the critter was quickly yanked away by his handler, Jerry Hahn.

Coincidentally, Hahn is retiring this year as Jimmy's caretaker — going out with a bite instead of a bang, apparently.

While no blood was shed during the incident, the quick ear-nibble — more of a nip, really — looked painful. And Freund certainly appeared startled. But like any civic leader who has been bitten in the facial area by a large rodent, the mayor rebounded and continued on with his (inaccurate?) declaration of an early spring.

After watching the above video, the first thing that might pop into your mind is a question: why in the world is that groundhog placed so close to that man's head? Freund, a longtime city council member appointed as mayor in 2014, is obviously leaning in to hear Jimmy’s forecast because, you know, groundhogs have the ability to speak. Have past Sun Prairie mayors leant Jimmy their ears in a similarly intimate/ill-advised manner?

Apparently so, as the folks in Sun Prairie prefer to do things a bit differently. Instead of the cut and dry “clear skies equals six more weeks of winter/overcast skies and no shadow means an early spring” Groundhog Day formula observed by most, in Sun Prairie the most accurate winter weather forecast is said to come directly from the mouth of Jimmy himself, "whispered" closely into the ear of the mayor who then "translates" the prediction and announces it to the public.

Following the unplanned and very public ear chomping— and the ensuing confusion over the announced prediction given that it was a cloud-free morning over Sun Prairie — the city issued a press release to clear things up: "While tradition holds that only the Mayor can translate Jimmy’s prediction and that a clear sky generally means Jimmy sees his shadow and that winter will go on for six more weeks, the Mayor’s translation this morning was clearly for an Early Spring. The break with tradition is unusual, but not unprecedented."

Neil Stechschulte, Sun Prairie Director of Economic Development, goes on to state:

The translation by the Mayor is a critical part of the prognostication process. We count on Jimmy to actually predict the weather…not just have an automated response based on current weather conditions like other groundhogs across the country. After a back and forth conversation with Jimmy this morning, the Mayor clearly confirmed Jimmy’s call for winter ending early. Jimmy the Groundhog was very adamant in his prognostication this year, as he leaned into the Mayor’s ear to make sure the Mayor heard him correctly. Mayor Freund stands by his translation, and we continue to put our faith in Jimmy the Groundhog.

According to Madison.com, this year marked the debut of this particular Jimmy — he’s the 11th groundhog to make once-a-year meteorological predictions for Sun Prairie, a suburb of Madison best known for its sweet corn festival and for being the birthplace of Georgia O’Keefe. Sun Prairie is also, apparently, Groundhog Capital of the World.

One would imagine that there’s a zero tolerance policy when it comes to unprovoked attacks on the mayor of the Groundhog Capital of the World. So did today mark the first and last public appearance of “Jimmy XI?”

Freund, who assured Madison.com that the bite “stopped hurting after a little while,” appears to harbor no hard feelings toward Jimmy; he later declared that the furry ear-nibbler is “always welcome in Sun Prairie.” So there's that. But after years of bite-free groundhog whispering, I'd imagine that things will play out a bit differently next year provided that Freund is still in office.

It's also worth noting in a recent interview, Hahn, a life-long Sun Prairie resident who has been Jimmy's caretaker for the past 12 years, expressed concern about the possibility of Jimmy getting too close to Freund:

It's Jimmy the 11th now, so this will be his very first time and so he's going to be pretty anxious. He's not going to be all that interested in whether he sees his shadow or not, but he knows he's got his job to do. And then this is a new mayor, too. So I'm going to hope that Jimmy doesn't want to take a nip out of his ear when I bring him up to him. This is my fourth mayor now that I've worked with. I've told all of them don't get too darn close. You'll be able to understand him when he talks to you.

Hahn goes on to explain that in addition to Sun Prairie's acting mayor, he too can interpret "Groundhogese." However, he can only understand Jimmy's forecast while wearing a "magical red hat" that's festooned with enough flair to make a former TGI Fridays employee weak at the knees.

Jimmy’s contemporaries in Pennsylvania and New York City were split with their predictions: Phil saw his shadow while a very carefully presented Chuck, kept at a safe remove from the fumbling hands of Mayor Bill de Blasio, called for an early spring.

Via [Gawker] [Madison.com]

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Matt Hickman ( @mattyhick ) writes about design, architecture and the intersection between the natural world and the built environment.

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