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Groundhog's forecast comes in depths of bitter winter

Matt Mills Mcknight / for NBC News

See how the weather-predicting groundhog spends his time, along with the 'Inner Circle' of top-hatted helpers who handle his travel and well being

Punxsutawney Phil is set to make his famous groundhog forecast early Sunday, and in a winter like this one, more folks than usual may be hoping he doesn’t see his shadow.

A series of arctic blasts has hit the Plains, Midwest and Northeast this winter, plunging temperatures well below zero for extended periods. Even the South hasn’t escaped the cold: In the past week, Atlanta was paralyzed by ice and snow that left thousands of motorists stranded on highways and more than 10,000 children stuck in schools overnight.

And a new series of storms is sweeping east with more snow for the Midwest and beyond. Chicago has already had more than four feet this season – more than the past two winters combined. And Detroit got a record 39 inches last month.

Now the groundhog is set to poke his head out at 7:20 a.m. ET at Gobblers Knob in Punxsutawney, Pa. The legend is that if he sees his shadow, there’ll be six more weeks of cold weather, but if he doesn’t, spring will come early.

The weather.com forecast for Sunday in Punxsutawney is for snow and rain showers with a high of about 36 degrees Fahrenheit. 

The Punxsutawney Groundhog Club expects about 20,000 people on hand for the event, executive director Katie Donald told The Associated Press. This is the first year that Groundhog Day coincides with the Super Bowl.

David Maxwell / EPA

A close up view of Phil, the weather prognosticating groundhog, during last year's Groundhog Day celebration in Punxsutawney, Pa.