CINCINNATI (AP) — America's most famous groundhog might want to go back into hibernation.
Punxsutawney Phil is facing a "criminal indictment" for falsely predicting an early spring. Tradition has it that winter will end quickly if the rodent sees his shadow after emerging from his western Pennsylvania lair on Feb. 2, an annual ceremony that dates back to the 19th century and was immortalized in the Bill Murray movie "Goundhog Day."
Phil saw his shadow this year, but his prediction was dead wrong.
Spring arrived Wednesday, and temperatures are still hovering in the 30s (around -1 degrees Celsius) in much of the Northeast.
Shivering Americans are vilifying Punxsutawney Phil on social media and one prosecutor in Ohio is even filing charges.
"Punxsutawney Phil did purposely, and with prior calculation and design, cause the people to believe that spring would come early," Mike Gmoser, the prosecutor in southwestern Ohio's Butler County, wrote in an official-looking indictment.
Gmoser wrote that Punxsutawney Phil is charged with misrepresentation of spring, which constitutes a felony "against the peace and dignity of the state of Ohio."
The penalty Phil faces?
Death, Gmoser said, tongue firmly in cheek.
That's "very harsh," given the nature of the allegations, said Bill Deeley, president of the Punxsutawney club that organizes Groundhog Day.
Deeley said the backlash has raised fears for Punxsutawny Phil's safety and special security precautions are in place around his home, Gobbler's Knob.
"Right next to where Phil stays is the police station," he said. "They've been notified and they said they will keep watching their monitors."
The chubby-cheeked animal also has his defenders. "Phree Phil!" declared one supporter on his Facebook page. "We're with you, Phil," wrote another.
As for spring, there's no relief in sight from the wintry conditions. A storm moving into the region Sunday could bring between up to 8 inches (20 centimeters) of snow, said Don Hughes, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Wilmington, Ohio.
The frigid temperatures and snow might be particularly hard to swallow after last spring, when the U.S. saw the warmest March in recorded history.
Hughes said this spring isn't nearly the coldest on record but that the area is about 5 degrees below normal.
Scolforo reported from Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.
Follow Amanda Lee Myers on Twitter at https://twitter.com/AmandaLeeAP