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Sun goes down for Sunset Sam

Davis County critter ‘predicts’ more winter

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Melanie Andrews keeps Sunset Sam warm Friday in Sunset. Sam predicted at least six more days of winter.

Melanie Andrews keeps Sunset Sam warm Friday in Sunset. Sam predicted at least six more days of winter.

Tom Smart, Deseret Morning News

SUNSET — They can both be right. Sunset Sam, a guinea pig that along with others of his species has been making weather predictions for the past 13 years, witnessed the sunset Friday in Sunset and predicted at least six more days of winter.

Eight hours earlier, the nationally famous groundhog Punxsutawney Phil, whose various incarnations have more than 120 years to their credit, failed to see his shadow and predicted an early spring.

Besides their size, geographic locations and forecasting experience, there's one big difference between these rodents: Sunset Sam's accuracy is 100 percent. And Phil's accuracy is about 37 percent, said Brent Andrews.

Of course, it's not hard to predict six more days of winter when the calendar says there will be six weeks. And, of course, www.groundhog.org, the official Punxsutawney Phil Web site, claims Phil's accuracy is also 100 percent. The site dismisses attempts to verify his predictions as "feeble attempts to undermine the statistics."

In Utah, Friday's prediction was made among a crowd of more than 30 people gathered in 24-degree weather outside Sunset City Hall. Sam, wrapped in a baby's receiving blanket for warmth, watched as the sun set in brilliant orange to the west.

Andrews' family has learned they have a responsibility as keepers of the guinea pig.

About four years ago, they decided to let Sam run around, said Andrews' daughter Melanie, 18. Sam got away and hid in a car's wheel well for a few minutes. Since then, they've kept a firm grip on Sam to let children come pet him.

The 13-year-old tradition of having Sam predict springtime's return began with a sobering event. Brent Andrews' son Jeremy, then 4, was hit by a truck and killed after he rode his bike into the street near his home. That was in September 1994.

To help the rest of his children cope with the loss, Andrews started the Sunset Sam tradition the following February.

"It was something for us to look forward to," said Melanie Andrews.

At first, the family kept Sam as a pet, but after a couple of Sams died during the summer months, Andrews said, he thought it better to borrow a "Sam" each year from Teacher's Pets in Layton. Each Sam is a genetic descendent of the first one.

Melanie Andrews gets to hold Sam during his predictions.

"I do it to get on TV, of course," she joked.

E-mail: jdougherty@desnews.com