Today’s weather, as told by the Farmers’ Almanac

Category:  News
Thursday, November 1st, 2018 at 9:19 AM

For Edinboro and Erie area residents, the passage of autumn and falling leaves gives way to the bitter cold and endless snow of everyone’s favorite season: winter. 

Admittedly, that last point is debatable, especially after the intensity of last winter; however, according to a long-time weather predictor, this winter could be even worse.

“Winter is coming... it’s going to be a ‘teeth-chattering’ cold one, with plenty of snow,” reads the 2018-19 winter prediction in the Farmers’ Almanac.

Their overall predictions are summarized on their website as such: “Colder-than-normal conditions are predicted from the Continental Divide east through the Appalachians. Above-normal snowfall predicted for Great Lakes, Midwest, New England, Pacific Northwest. Frigid weather is expected in mid-February, which may also bring blustery and bitter winds, widespread snow showers, especially in zones 1, 2 and 3. Winter will hang on with stormy conditions up through the official start of spring, especially for the East Coast.”

The almanac, founded in 1818 by the editor David Young, prides itself on being able to make weather forecasts years in advance.

However, how does the almanac make these long-range predictions?

According to the almanac’s website, they are made by: “using a specific and reliable set of rules…[that] have been altered slightly and turned into a formula that is both mathematical and astronomical. The formula takes things like sunspot activity, tidal action of the Moon, the position of the planets, and a variety of other factors into consideration.”

Oddly enough, similar considerations are made by a competitor of the Farmers’ Almanac, which is appropriately named The Old Farmer’s Almanac. 

This particular series, founded in 1792 by Robert B. Thomas, “predict[s] weather trends and events by comparing solar patterns and historical weather conditions with current solar activity,” using methods such as solar science, climatology and meteorology.

Yet, this is where the similarities end. The Old Farmer’s Almanac’s predictions greatly differ from the Farmers’ Almanac’s. 

While the Farmers’ Almanac predicts a colder-than-normal winter, The Old Farmer’s Almanac differs in basically every category: “Winter will be warmer than normal, with above-normal precipitation and near-to below-normal snowfall. The coldest periods will be in mid- and late December, early and late January, and early and mid-February. The snowiest periods will be in mid-December, early January, and early February.”

Some, though, buy neither organization.

“Both (the Old Farmer’s Almanac and its competition, the Farmers’ Almanac) claim high accuracy rates (around 80 percent) but have never published evidence backing them up. They lack transparency and keep their methods ‘closely guarded,’” said Jason Samenow in a 2013 Washington Post article. 

Secrecy is a common theme with both almanacs; in fact, the Farmers’ Almanac keeps their formula for weather prediction so secretive, the only person who knows their exact formula is an anonymous “weather prognosticator” operating under the pseudonym Caleb Weatherbee. 

Nonetheless, even meteorologists find issues with the forecasts: in a 2015 tweet, Houston meteorologist Matt Lanza quipped, “Your annual reminder that using the Farmers’ Almanac for a seasonal meteorological outlook is about as good as going to a psychic.” 

Still, because of the longevity of both publications, many still look to their predictions every year. One of The Old Farmer’s Almanac’s editors, Janice Stillman, said: “About 3 million copies are printed, and the title has 1.3 million fans on Facebook. Whether for entertainment or information, people read it for everything from gardening tips to holiday lists. (And, yes, weather forecasts).”

Time will tell which — if either — almanac is more accurate to the truth.

Nathan Brennan can be reached at edinboro.spectator@gmail.com.

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