Feb 2, 2024 - News

California relies on desert tortoise, not a groundhog, for spring forecast

Illustration of a groundhog peering into a crystal ball.

Illustration: Maura Losch/Axios

Friday is Groundhog Day, meaning people nationwide are waiting to see Punxsutawney Phil's prediction on how long winter will last.

The intrigue: California has its own forecaster: Mojave Maxine, a desert tortoise at The Living Desert Zoo and Gardens in Palm Desert.

  • Around Thanksgiving, Maxine and her tortoise roommates typically enter brumation — when desert reptiles go into their insulated, underground burrows to sleep and survive cold winters.
  • When she emerges, usually in February, it means springtime has arrived.
  • The zoo also runs a contest for kids in neighboring counties to guess the date and win a field trip for their class.

Reality check: Do people in San Diego — or other warmer weather areas — pay attention to this tradition?

  • A proposal: San Diego should designate its own mascot to predict how bad May Gray and June Gloom will be.
  • Maybe the sea lions can tell us something?

Our thought bubble: Growing up on the East Coast, Groundhog Day was a big deal for us.

  • While I've stayed curious about the rodent's prediction since moving here fairly recently, the holiday has fallen out of mind for Andy, and his kids aren't really familiar with Phil.
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