Thousands gather at Gobbler's Knob in Pennsylvania town for Phil's annual ritual – and the lack of a shadow spells good news

After recent weather that has included freezing cold snaps, fierce tornadoes and then record-breaking seasonal highs, it's perhaps not surprising that Americans are looking for climatic solace in bizarre places.

So the news that a small, fat, Pennsylvania rodent called Phil has predicted a looming end to winter will perhaps come as a relief.

Yes, it's Groundhog Day in America.

In front of thousands of people at Gobbler's Knob, a rural area near the small town of Punxsutawney, a group of town elders repeated the famous tradition of consulting the town's famous groundhog on the prospects of when winter might turn to spring.

To the relief of many, they reported that Phil had emerged from his lair and did not see his shadow – a sign that winter is soon to end. If he had seen his shadow, it would have indicated at least six more weeks of cold weather.

The warm weather prognostication will please many in America's north-east, who are currently enduring a return to freezing temperatures after a see-saw week which had included a couple days of warm, almost summery, days.

Punxsutawney Phil was made famous to the outside world via the classic comedy movie Groundhog Day in which a jaded newsman played by Bill Murray is trapped to repeat the same 24 hours over and over again after being forced to cover the event.

Since then, other groundhogs have popped up in towns elsewhere, no doubt with one canny eye on the hordes of tourists that descends on Phil's hideout. There's Staten Island Chuck in New York, General Beauregard Lee in Atlanta, and even the normally more staid Canadians have got in on the act with Wiarton Willie in Wiarton, Ontario.

This year, Staten Island Chuck is also reported to have missed seeing his shadow and thus predicted an end to winter. Not that such groundhog co-ordination is a sure sign of their forecasting skills. Last year, Phil predicting a continuation of freezing temperatures, only to see January to June come in as the warmest seven-month period since systematic records began in 1895.

© Guardian News and Media 2013