The Farmers' Almanac prediction for this coming winter.

Credit: Courtesy of the Farmers' Almanac

Farmers' Almanac Says Snowy Winter's A' Comin', But What Does Science Say?

August 22, 2017

This month, the Farmers' Almanac was released for the 200th year, including those famous weather predictions. As much as some people may count on that forecast, it's not what climate scientists would call, well, scientific.

Pete Geiger, the editor of the Maine-based Farmers' Almanac, says this winter’s going to be a snowy one.

"We are talking about at least five major storms during the winter," Geiger said. "If you look at the Almanac you'll see in December that there [are] two or three snowstorms. I think smaller, in the early part of December.”

And then we should see some heavy precipitation, specifically between Jan. 20th and 23rd. Oh, and next summer? It’s going to be pretty hot and dry.

The front cover of the Farmers' Almanac.
Photo Credit: Courtesy of the Farmers' Almanac.

But how could the Farmers' Almanac – not to be confused with its arch rival, the Old Farmers' Almanac – possibly know that?

Geiger says their methodology dates back two centuries to their first editor and prognosticator, David Young.

He developed a mathematical formula that is applied to sunspot activity, planet positions, the effect that the moon has on the earth," Geiger said. "And those are the components of what goes into the weather two years in advance.”

Geiger said he’s told they make predictions with up to 85 percent accuracy, but he didn’t know of any studies that actually show that.

“If somebody wants to rely on a computer then they can rely on a computer," he said. "But if you are going to get married next summer and you wonder what the weather is going to be on July 2nd, then you go to the Farmers' Almanac.”

But does its prediction for your wedding day mean anything? Peter Huybers, a professor of earth and planetary sciences at Harvard, says solar activity can impact things – a little.

It's just detectable if you look at very long climate records. It's not going to confer a lot of predictability, at least from anything that I've seen," Huybers said.

And as for the position of planets? “That sounds more like astrology than climatology or weather forecasting to me,” said Huybers.

Huybers said the scientific way of predicting weather is basically to figure out the state of the atmosphere and then use computer models that account for how the atmosphere moves.

“And you can get out a week or two with some real skill there," he added. "And it’s gotten better and better every year as our models improve, as our ability to observe the atmosphere improves.”

Hubyers said there are ways to make longer term forecasts. It depends on what you're looking for, right?" he said. "I can tell you with great certainty that summer is going to be on average warmer than winter.”  

Beyond that, when you’re talking years out, it’s really about shifts in climate. And there are certain things we know about how the climate’s going – like it keeps getting warmer, and as that happens, storms are becoming more extreme. The Farmers' Almanac says climate change is not something they're factoring into their forecasts.

So if you’re planning your wedding for March 23, 2018, you might try to get your catering deposit back, because the Farmers' Almanac is forecasting heavy winter precipitation.

But, then again, it could be sunny. 

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