Farmers Know Best: Almanac Winter Weather Predictions 2017
Skis are waxed. Wood is split. Nuts are stored. Winter is upon us and two competing almanacs have made their forecasts for the weather this Winter season.
What makes Farmers so great at long range forecasts? WinterReview explores the history of two iconic American almanacs and their predictions for this Winter season.
In the 1800s there were many almanacs in the United States, but two icons have stood the test of time:
The Old Farmer’s Almanac
The Old Farmer’s Almanac has some serious history predicting weather. The publication was first published by Robert B Thomas in 1792. That makes it the longest running, continuously published periodical in North America.
Mr. Thomas stayed on as editor until his death in 1846. Since then it became the “Old” Farmer’s Almanac, went back to “Farmer’s Almanac” and then in 1848 became the “Old Farmer’s Almanac” to this day. The periodical avoided a near halt in publication during World War II when it voluntarily censored it’s weather forecasts to comply with the U.S. Office of Censorship.
A competing almanac joined the scene in 1818. David Young and Jacob Mann began publishing the rival, Farmers’ Almanac (note the apostrophe) in Morristown, New Jersey. Today the periodical is based in Lewiston, Maine. That sounds more like farm country than it’s previous home of Newark, NJ.
The publication has seen 7 editors in it’s life including Ray Geiger who held the post from 1933 to 1994 when he passed the torch to his son. Ray tenaciously marketed the almanac by interviewing on radio and TV across the nation. Geiger interviewed so much that the famed Canadian-American television personality Art Linkletter referred to him as “the most interviewed man in America”. Circulation during this time increased from 85k to over 6 million.
Both books claim to forecast the weather far in advance of modern meteorology. And, both books claim to have some secret recipes for success.
Old Farmer’s Almanac
The Old Farmer’s Almanac uses a “secret formula” devised by it’s creator Robert B Thomas. The secrets are actually locked up in an unassuming black box at company headquarters in Dublin, New Hampshire. They point out that their predictions are based on deviations from average. Thomas’ secrets have been combined with state of the art technology and modern scientific calculations to create their three discipline system:
- solar science, the study of sunspots and other solar activity;
- climatology, the study of prevailing weather patterns; and
- meteorology, the study of the atmosphere.
Farmers’ Almanac doesn’t have a black box, but plenty of mystery surrounds their prediction process as well. Farmers’ have a secret forecaster known only as “Caleb Weatherbee”. They keep the identity of their forecaster a secret to protect their centuries old forecast formula as well as shield him from adoring fans and the press. All they’ll say about the process on their website is that Weatherbee “uses a top-secret mathematical and astronomical formula, taking sunspot activity, tidal action, the position of the planet, and many other factors into consideration”
2016 – 2017 WINTER FORECAST
OLD FARMER’S ALMANAC calls for colder temperatures than last year. That’s good, but what about snow? They predict a decrease in snowfall nationwide wide but call for increased snowfall:
- in southern New England and western New York southward through the Appalachians
- from eastern Minnesota to the UP (Upper Peninsula) of Michigan and southward to St. Louis, Missouri
- from central North Dakota westward to the Pacific.
FARMERS’ ALMANAC also predicts a colder winter this year. They say “That while last year was a reprieve from shoveling and high fuel bills the party is over, Winter is back!”. According to Editor Peter Geiger “Cold Man Winter did seem to be on vacation last year thanks to a very strong El Niño, but this year he’s back.
Farmers’ goes on to predict a snowy cold November for the Northeast and that skiers should rejoice for a Winter storm that will roll through the East in February 16-19th.
SMOKE AND MIRRORS?
In general, the forecasts are vague and at times contradictory in a “it’ll be colder, except when it’s not” kind of way. Yet both groups of farmers claim an accuracy rate of 80% or higher … kind of.
Farmers’ claims “longtime fans of the Farmers’ Almanac who follow weather predictions claim they are accurate approximately 80-85% of the time”. They don’t tell us if fan data is collected from Facebook, or some other scientific method.
Old Farmer’s claims their success rate in terms of their prediction of direction from average. So, they are claiming that they are pretty good at Weather Hi-Lo. They also point to their readers as a source that their predictions are 80-85% accurate.
However, academics and meteorologists have a different view.
John Walsh, University of Illinois Atmospheric Sciences professor emeritus studied 5 years worth of data and concluded an accuracy rate of less than 52%. According to Penn State meteorologist Paul Knight “the ability to predict events that far in advance is zero”. Past president of the American Meteorological Society Dr J Marshall Shepherd has criticized their methods as “not common meteorological practice”.
In 2008 the Old Almanac went so far as to state that the Earth is cooling. Their contributing meteorologist stated that their study of sunspots “suggests that cold, not warm, climate may be our future”.
Worth A Look
Regardless of the “science” and mystery behind their weather, both publications have been American favorites for centuries. They both contain fun information, tips and advice. From Astronomy to gardening tips, the Old Farmer’s Almanac promises to be “useful, with a pleasant degree of humor”. From health tips to fishing calendars, Farmers’ Almanac states that their recipe for success is simple: “Smart living never goes out of style.”
So, which almanac should grace your coffee table? Why not both?