Punxsutawney Phil charged with fraud for early spring forecast

CLEVELAND Fri Mar 22, 2013 6:01pm EDT

Groundhog co-handler Ron Ploucha (R) holds Punxsutawney Phil as the Groundhog Club's Bob Roberts (L) reads the famous groundhog's annual weather prediction on Gobbler's Knob in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, on the 127th Groundhog Day, February 2, 2013. REUTERS/Jason Cohn

Groundhog co-handler Ron Ploucha (R) holds Punxsutawney Phil as the Groundhog Club's Bob Roberts (L) reads the famous groundhog's annual weather prediction on Gobbler's Knob in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, on the 127th Groundhog Day, February 2, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Jason Cohn

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CLEVELAND (Reuters) - With a snow storm expected to batter the Plains, Midwest and East Coast this weekend, a spring-deprived Ohio prosecutor is taking out his frustration with the long winter on a famous prognosticating groundhog.

"I decided it was about time we indicted Punxsutawney Phil for fraud," said Mike Gmoser, prosecutor in Ohio's Butler County, in an interview Friday.

When he emerged from his burrow in Gobbler's Knob, Pennsylvania, Phil did not see his shadow, leading to a forecast of an early spring. Gmoser's mock indictment contends that the forecast was fraudulent.

The rodent is being charged with a single mock felony count of "Misrepresentation of Early Spring," which Gmoser said should be punishable by death.

Tom Kines, senior meteorologist for AccuWeather, said he understands why Gmoser and his fellow Ohioans might be inclined to take out their frustrations on the groundhog.

"The mid-Atlantic and upper Midwest have been experiencing record-coldest high temperatures, which means that the high temperatures have never been so cold," said Kines.

Kines added that a coast-to-coast storm front expected to hit this weekend is likely to bring more cold temperatures and even snow to areas that normally do not see snow this time of year, including Butler County in southwestern Ohio.

The news doesn't get any better for the upper Midwest, Great Lakes or Mid-Atlantic area.

"We don't expect to see springtime weather anytime soon and expect cold through the end of the month," Kines said. "The cold will ease up a bit the second half of April. But it will be a gradual thing."

Gmoser said he might be inclined to drop the case if he sees temperatures reach the 80s by mid-April.

Neither Phil, nor his keepers, could immediately be reached for comment.

Gmoser said his office will give Buckeye Chuck, the Ohio groundhog who also forecast an early spring, immunity if he testifies against Phil.

"I know his defenders are going to say he is just a dumb groundhog but, as we know ignorance, is not a defense of the law," said Gmoser.

(Reporting by Kim Palmer; Editing by Mary Wisniewski, Leslie Gevirtz)

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