Milltown Mel, who has served as the weather predictor during Groundhog Day in New Jersey the past several years, died just days before the annual local event.
Milltown Mel's Facebook account announced the groundhog's death Sunday (January 30), with the "feeling heartbroken" mood status, adding that the town would not be able to find a replacement in time for the annual event on Wednesday (February 2).
"We Wranglers are sad to report that Milltown Mel recently crossed over the rainbow bridge," Milltown Mel's Facebook post stated. "Considering the average lifespan of a Groundhog is about 3 years, that is not such a shock, but Mel left us at a tough time of year, when most of his fellow groundhogs are hibernating...so no babies will be available to replace him until this Spring. We tried everywhere to get a stand-in, but to no avail!
"On top of that, the county is not currently renting out the big Showmobile stage due to the pandemic, so we would have had that issue as well. We will work hard on getting us a new weather prognosticator for next year, till then please check out what all of Mel's cousins have to say on Feb 2nd.
Last week, the animal rights group PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) called for Punxsutawney Phil -- the center of the moust famous Groundhog Day festivities -- to be retired prior Groundhog Day festivities.
The letter, which is addressed to Jeff Lundy, president of the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club, was shared on PETA's website and asked for the famed groundhog, as well as his companion, Phyllis, to be replaced, offering to send Lundy and the Groundhog Club a persimmon tree to plant in Gobbler's Knobb, arguing that the trees are reported to be "accurate in predicting the weather 25% of the time, not too far off from Phil's average."
"As you know, Phil is certainly not a real meteorologist and didn’t volunteer for this job. For far too long, he’s been dragged out of a fake tree stump and subjected to noise, flashing lights, and crowds, against all of his natural instincts. For the rest of the year, he’s forced to live in a library “habitat” that doesn’t allow him to do anything that’s natural and important to him, such as hibernating, digging, burrowing, foraging, smelling fresh air, and simply living like a sentient being, not an exhibit.
"There are plenty of ways for Punxsutawney to remain a significant tourist destination for weather forecasting. You could listen to the chirps of crickets, check the height of hornets’ nests, and look at the thickness of regional apple skins and cornhusks and then issue a report. We’d also be happy to send you a persimmon tree to plant in Gobbler’s Knob so that you could hold a ceremony to check the seeds annually. (They’re said to be accurate in predicting the weather 25% of the time, not too far off from Phil’s average.) And of course, our offer still stands to donate a state-of-the-art animatronic groundhog with artificial intelligence that could actually predict the weather."
PETA has previously made public efforts to encourage Phil's retirement, which included a suggestion for the groundhog to be replaced with an animatronic version of himself that would use technology to predict weather, which was also reiterated in the most recent letter.
During the annual February 2 ceremony, Punxsutawney Phil emerges from his temporary home on Gobbler's Knob and determines whether the next six weeks will see more winter-like weather.
If Phil sees his shadow, more winter weather is expected; if not, an "early spring" is expected.
Punxsutawney's event is the most famous of the Groundhog Day festivities held in both the U.S. and Canada, which formally began in 1887, but is believed to have roots dating back even earlier.