Prairie dogs predict 6 more weeks of cold

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Don't break out the shorts and T-shirts just yet. Those prophesying pundits of weather patterns, Flushing Meadows Phil and Corona Kate, saw their shadows and predicted that there would be six more weeks of winter.

Stepping out of their home - a miniature version of the Queens Zoo - at the Queens Wildlife Center in Flushing Meadows Corona Park, the prognosticating prairie dogs seemed more concerned with tracking down peanuts and getting back into the warmth of their dwelling than looking out for their shadows.

Superstition has it that the groundhog leaves its burrow on Feb. 2 and returns underground for six more weeks of winter if it sees its shadow.

Queens' prairie dogs were joined by Borough President Claire Shulman; Parks Commissioner Henry Stern; Cristyne Lategano, president and CEO of the New York Convention and Visitors Bureau; Robin Dalton, director of the Queens Wildlife Center; and a sixth-grade class from PS 150.

As the sixth-graders, sporting buck teeth and ears cut out of paper, held signs showing their support for the two cousins of the celebrated weather-forecasting groundhog, one of the prairie dogs stood up on his hind legs. He stared down the crowd of 11-year-olds as a boxer might stare down his opponent.

"That must be Phil," some one from the crowd screamed. "He is looking like a tough guy."

Michelle Carbajal, a sixth-grader from Sunnyside, said she liked both Flushing Meadows Phil and Corona Kate and did not mind that they saw their shadows.

"We like the snow because we get to have snowball fights," said her friend Diana Eusse, also of Sunnyside.

Daniel Pereia, another sixth-grader, said he was impressed that the prairie dogs had the power to predict the coming of spring. A Mets and Yankees fan, he said he wanted spring to arrive sooner so he could get out on the baseball diamond and shag some flies.

"I'm a Yankee fan," screamed one of his friends.

"The time of the Yankees is over," responded another sixth-grader.

"Even though this is Flushing, this is Yankee country," said another young student as he broke out into a chant of "Yankees, Yankees."

Not wanting to get involved in the cross-town rivalry, the prairie dogs tired of the crowd and turned their backs on the sunny cold winter day as they headed into their homes.

According to the city Parks Department, over the years Phil and Kate have accurately predicted when spring would arrive about 75 percent of the time.

Flushing Meadows Phil's and Corona Kate's kin, groundhogs known as Staten Island Chuck and Punxsutawney Phil in Pennsylvania, also predicted six more weeks of winter.

Updated 10:26 am, October 12, 2011
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