The Old Farmer's Almanac releases its winter forecast - here's why you should ignore it


DETROIT – It happens every August, and usually starts with an e-mail, or something I see on Facebook or Twitter. Then comes the story on network news. And I’m ready to scream. I’m talking about the release of the new issue of The Old Farmer’s Almanac. 

Now, I don’t have a problem with the cute little stories in the Almanac, its recipes, or its astronomical information. There’s some interesting and fun stuff to read in that little publication.  However, I do have a problem with what they claim are specific weather “forecasts” for the entire nation.

Here’s what the Almanac’s staff writes about how they make their forecasts:  “We derive our weather forecasts from a secret formula that was devised by the founder of this Almanac, Robert B. Thomas, in 1792. Thomas believed that weather on Earth was influenced by sunspots, which are magnetic storms on the surface of the Sun.”

That’s right.  The Almanac’s weather “forecasters” use a theory developed by a guy 224 years ago.  In fact, they go on to say that the “formula” is locked in a black box in their offices in Dublin, New Hampshire.  Really…I can’t make this stuff up. 

They apparently don’t consider any of the advancements made in meteorology since 1792.  That means that they don’t consider El Nino / La Nina, other important oceanic and atmospheric circulation patterns, data from satellites, nor guidance from computer models.  So how do they produce exact forecasts for specific weeks throughout the year ahead?  They can’t.  And they shouldn’t claim that they can.  Don’t you think that, if I could forecast in August your specific weather for Thanksgiving week, that I’d be doing it by now?

Don’t you think that if I could tell you today that we’ll have a big travel-snarling Christmas week snowstorm, that I would?  And don’t you think that if I could tell you eight months ahead of time that we’d have a particularly stormy end of April, that I would?

As for the winter forecast, which EVERYBODY (at least here in the Great White North) is interested in, last summer, I saw a potentially historic El Nino developing in the Pacific Ocean.  I wrote a mid-summer article for you right here on ClickOnDetroit.com saying that there was a great likelihood that our 2015-16 winter would be much warmer than average, with less snow. 

I couldn’t (and wouldn’t even try to) get more specific than that…but that’s all you needed to know.  And that’s exactly what happened.  And what did the Old Farmer’s Almanac “predict?”  Below average temperatures and snow.  Well, they got half of it right.  When I saw its newly released “forecast” last fall, I actually did scream.  Fortunately, the door to my weather office was shut.  Nobody heard a thing. 

But every meteorologist in the Midwest who is familiar with the impact of a strong El Nino knew that we’d have a mild winter, and that’s why I decided last fall to try and accomplish twelve consecutive months of Michigan golf, which I’m about to complete.  But if you relied upon the Old Farmer’s Almanac, you would have bought extra firewood for your fireplace, and budgeted more for higher heating costs.

I don’t make my forecast for the winter ahead until in the fall, as I spend a lot of time analyzing the phases of various oceanic and atmospheric circulation patterns, and I want to see what those numeric values are in early fall.  The Old Farmer’s Almanac says that “Winter (2016-17) will be warmer than normal, with above-normal precipitation.” 

However, its monthly chart has a very warm December, followed by a near normal January and February, then a very cold March.  I don’t know how that translates into a “warmer than normal” winter, unless their anticipated December temperatures skew the winter average above normal.  And if two of the three months end up with near or below normal temperatures, in an above average precipitation winter, then that would mean a lot of snow. 

Once I get a handle on things this fall, I’ll most certainly let you know my thoughts on the winter ahead.  But until then, don’t make ANY plans based upon the Almanac’s forecast, and especially its specific week-by-week forecasts…those have no higher value than that of a comic book. 

But do read the rest of the Almanac…there’s some fun stuff in there.

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