0

Ready for spring
Hundreds watch as Gen. Lee emerges on Groundhog Day

LILBURN - Though adoring fans were calling the groundhog by name, General Beauregard Lee was somewhat reluctant to emerge from his posh living quarters Saturday morning to give his much anticipated weather prediction.

A group of nearly 300 fur-fancying enthusiasts from around the state packed outside the groundhog's home at the Yellow River Game Ranch in Snellville beginning at 6 a.m. so they could be the first to find out the groundhog's traditional weather prognosis.

While an old farm bell was rung and a bowl of hash browns placed outside his door, the furry rodent only teased the calling crowd by popping his nose outside the door of his white columned mansion before scurrying back inside.

"Give him a minute to get his thoughts together, now," game ranch CEO Art Rilling joked with the disappointed crowd.

Nearly half an hour later, at 7:32 a.m., the stubborn hog made an appearance without his elusive shadow and game ranch officials declared spring is on its way.

The mood around the ranch after Lee's prediction seemed to be one of pleasure and satisfaction, with many glad to hear warmer weather could be approaching.

"I kinda wanted an early spring," said Luke Rucker of Snellville. The 10-year-old said this was his and his father's, Lee Rucker, fourth year visiting the ranch for Groundhog Day, bringing a curiosity for General Lee's prediction.

Denise Cardin of Marietta traveled on her birthday to see General Lee for the first time.

"It's kinda like if your birthday's on the Fourth of July and not seeing fireworks," Cardin explained as to why she made the trip.

While many who attended the holiday festivities this weekend believe the animal's prediction is credible, Rilling acknowledges the skeptics. But he's quick to remind the doubters that General Lee, Georgia's official weather prognosticator, gives a prediction that comes with a 98 percent accuracy rate.

Rilling recalls only one time when the 14-year-old ball of fur was wrong.

"In '93 we had that freak snowstorm," Rilling said. "It came two days - (General Lee) covers a 6-week period - before the end of that 6-week period."

Though Georgians mostly stick to the predictions of General Lee, one can't forget his Pennsylvania counterpart, Punxsutawney Phil.

The northern-based groundhog saw his shadow, indicating six more weeks of winter.

So who's right?

Many said only time will tell.