Who’s right about predicting the weather? Farmers or scientists? Or maybe a little of both?
If you follow the farmers' predictions (or at least the publishers of the Old Farmer’s Almanac), this winter will bring mild, wet weather to most of the East Coast, and mild, snowy conditions to the Midwest.
Meanwhile, the weather experts in the federal government say the coming winter will be warmer than usual across nearly the entire country, with about equal chances for rain or snow being more or less than normal.
So, who’s right? The answer is that nobody knows for sure. As the 19th century American writer Mark Twain famously said, “Climate is what we expect, weather is what we get.”
‘The mysteries of the universe’
Most weather experts admit that forecasting is an inexact science. "The ability to predict events that far in advance is zero," said Penn State meteorologist Paul Knight. And while the folks at the Old Farmer’s Almanac have been advising farmers and others who rely on (or at least are entertained by) weather forecasts since 1792, they fail at least as often as they succeed.
“Neither we nor anyone else has as of yet gained sufficient insight into the mysteries of the universe to predict weather with anything resembling total accuracy,” the editors of the Almanac wrote in its bicentennial issue.
Even though farmers don’t exclusively rely on either of the almanacs anymore, their continued popularity for general consumption recalls a time when the United States was largely a nation of farmers, and we all lived closer to the land.
Relying on comparing weather patterns, past weather events, and a dash of some well-kept secrets for generations, the almanacs are still used by many who trust in their ability to predict weather.
Cooler than Last Year—But Not So Cold
The Old Farmer’s Almanac predicts this winter will be cooler than last year’s, but that’s not saying much. Last winter was the sixth warmest winter on record, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
The Almanac’s editors say that a big chunk of the northern United States will experience milder-than-average temperatures. A lot of the South and West will feel cooler than normal, while the Florida panhandle will be milder than average. And most of the country will get above-average precipitation.
The map below comes courtesy of the Old Farmer’s Almanac:
The “Newer” Farmer’s Almanac Goes Out on a Limb
The other, “newer” almanac, known simply as The Farmer’s Almanac, began publishing in 1818. Like the Old Farmer’s Almanac, it cites its own secret formula for predicting the weather accurately. Its predictions for the winter call for a return to more normal temperatures, especially in the Eastern and Central states. And it forecasts above-average rain or snow in most of the country. The below is a winter forecast from the “newer” Farmer’s Almanac.
What the Scientists Say
Meanwhile, the scientists at the National Weather Service’s Climate Prediction Center stick with the facts. You may need an advanced degree in meteorology or, possibly, astrophysics, to understand how they create a forecast. Suffice to say, it’s complicated.
The following two maps show their outlook for temperatures and precipitation for the months of December, January, and February. As you can see from the temperature map, most of the country is predicted to feel warmer than average. (The previous two winters were the two hottest winters on record on earth since record keeping started 140 years ago). The map for rain and snow may appear blank, but that can be deceiving. The large patch of white across most of the country means that there are equal chances for rain or snow to be above, below, or at normal. Not very conclusive, but that’s what their models show.
The Last Word on the Weather
Mark Twain also once wisely said, “If you don’t like the weather in New England, just wait a few minutes.” We’d add a twist to that quote relating to the predictions for this winter and to weather prognostication in general: If you don’t like the weather in winter, just wait a few months.
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