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GROUNDHOG DAY GOES HIGH-TECH AS DUNKIRK DAVE FINDS A NEW HOME ON THE WEB

Whether or not Dunkirk Dave sees his shadow on Groundhog Day Wednesday morning, he will be able to see himself on the World Wide Web.

The age-old custom of using groundhogs (actually, in Europe, where the custom started, they were hedgehogs) to determine how much longer winter weather will last is embracing the Internet age with the recent introduction of dunkirkdave.org.

"It's amazing," said Bob Will, Dave's long-time handler. "Already today (Monday), 300 people were on the site in the last six hours. That's pretty good."

There won't be any video of the great event on Wednesday but Will hopes to update the site as soon as Dave is done.

Of course, interest in groundhogs, also known as woodchucks, is pretty limited 364 days a year. But on Feb. 2, the lowly groundhog -- the only animal to have its own day on the calendar -- becomes a symbol of hope for all who have had enough of winter.

From Dunkirk to Punxsutawney, Pa., from Wiarton, Ont., to Lilburn, Ga., groundhogs are rousted from their hibernation and paraded in front of sleepy-eyed humans who somehow are able to tell whether or not the animal has seen its shadow.

Feb. 2 marks the halfway point between the winter equinox and the spring solstice and the legend has it that if the groundhog sees his shadow on that day, there will be at least six more weeks of winter.

"If he doesn't, then he stays out and we have early spring weather," Will said. "He's not predicting spring. He's predicting early spring weather so farmers can know when to plant their crops."

That was a valuable barometer in the days before meteorology. These days, Groundhog Day seems to exist primarily to put a little life into a slow time of the year. "It gives people something to do during the boring days of winter," Will said.

And it seemingly exists to put Punxsutawney, a city of 6,700 people that is a two-hour drive northeast of Pittsburgh, on the map.

"I always tell people that I live in the most famous small town in the world," said Ron Ploucha, a member of the inner circle of handlers of Punxsutawney Phil, who Ploucha calls "the only groundhog that matters."

The others -- Dunkirk Dave, the late Wiarton Willie, General Beauregard Lee of Georgia -- are all impostors, according to Ploucha, and are listed as such on Phil's Web site, punxsutawneyphil.com.

Ploucha dissed and dismissed Dave. "Dunkirk Dave probably didn't have a movie made about him," he said, referring to the 1993 movie "Groundhog Day," which starred Bill Murray as a weatherman covering the annual festivities in Punxsutawney.

Dunkirk's Will, who invites all to Wednesday's sunrise ceremony at 5117 Farmlane Road, couldn't resist a few swipes at Phil and his handlers.

"In the 1960s, they admitted they used a stuffed one, now they're denying it. Now that media started showing up, they had to get the real thing," he said. "The only shadow Phil's going to see is from the TV cameras."

The Woodchuck War continues, only now it's on the World Wide Web.

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