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      Early spring? The groundhog says so

      Punxsutawney Phil did not see his shadow this morning. According to legend, that means we can expect an early spring.

      Of course, Phil couldn't possibly see his shadow because the sun was blocked by the massive storm system that is hammering the U.S. with snow, sleet, freezing rain and cold.

      So as you are struggling to clear the snow from your car, or standing in line at an airport hoping to get a flight sometime this week, take heart, our little furry buddy in Punxsutawney says spring is coming early.

      As an old, worn news cliche says, only time will tell.

      More on this story from the Associated Press:

      To the relief of the winter-weary, the world's most famous groundhog is predicting an early spring.

      Punxsutawney Phil emerged around dawn on Groundhog Day on Wednesday to make his 125th annual weather forecast in front of thousands who braved muddy, icy conditions to hear his handlers reveal that Pennsylvania's prophetic rodent had not seen his shadow.

      Phil's handlers, the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club's Inner Circle, concoct the forecasts. Several thousand revelers gathered in the pre-dawn hours on a small hill called Gobbler's Knob to hear the prediction.

      Before Wednesday, Phil had seen his shadow 98 times and hadn't seen it 15 times since 1887. There are no records for the remaining years, though the group has never failed to issue a forecast.

      The tradition traces its origins to a German superstition.

      New York City's most famous groundhog, Staten Island Chuck, predicts an early spring.

      In Pennsylvania, Punxsutawney Phil made the same optimistic call as Chuck.

      Of course, there's a naysayer in every crowd. On Long Island, Holtsville Hal says there will be six more weeks of winter.

      Staten Island Chuck, whose formal name is Charles G. Hogg, braved the remnants of the ice storm Wednesday to perform his duties.

      Chuck's old nemesis, Mayor Michael Bloomberg, helped the groundhog make his prediction.

      Chuck bit Bloomberg in 2009, leading to a new mayoral fashion statement: heavy gloves.

      Tradition holds that if the groundhog sees its shadow, winter could last six more weeks.

      (Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)