(Reuters) - The celebrated groundhog known as Punxsutawney Phil emerged from his Pennsylvania burrow on Thursday and saw his shadow, a sign of six more weeks of frosty weather in North America, which so far has enjoyed one of the mildest winters on record.
Thousands of revelers gathered at dawn in Punxsutawney, a small town northeast of Pittsburgh, to celebrate Groundhog Day and watch Phil climb out of his tree stump to offer his prognostication of what lies ahead in a quirky yearly ritual.
"I see a shadow on my stage, and so no matter how you measure, it's six more weeks of winter," Phil's official "interpreter" read in a proclamation that was met by a round of cheers and applause.
According to folklore, if the rodent sees his shadow on Groundhog Day, then frigid and blustery weather will persist for six weeks. If it is cloudy and no shadow appears, the onset of spring is near.
Groundhog Day, which falls on Feb. 2, evolved from an ancient ritual brought to America by German immigrants who settled in what is now the state of Pennsylvania. The first official celebration of Groundhog Day was in 1886, according to the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club.
The annual event, famously featured in the classic 1993 film "Groundhog Day" starring Bill Murray, draws visitors from around the world.
In New York City, another groundhog called Staten Island Chuck failed to see his shadow, thus predicting spring is soon to arrive.
This year, many parts of North America have experienced a mild winter but that appears to be changing, lending some credence to Phil's forecast.
New York City, for example, recorded its first measurable snowfall of the winter early on Wednesday morning, ending the second-longest stretch on record that no snow has fallen in the most-populous U.S. city.
As Punxsutawney Phil made his prediction, some 450,000 homes and businesses in Texas, Mississippi, Arkansas and Tennessee were without power after several rounds of sleet and freezing rain downed power lines and trees.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Northeast prepared for a historic deep freeze in the coming days, with wind chills forecast to be minus-50 degrees Fahrenheit (minus-46 degrees Celsius) in some spots.
(Reporting by Brendan O'Brien in Chicago; Editing by Will Dunham)