Winter forecast, part III: the Old Farmer's Almanac

By: Dr. Jeff Masters , 2:23 PM GMT on November 24, 2008

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Since 1792, the Old Farmer's Almanac has been issuing long-range seasonal weather forecasts. This year, the Almanac is predicting that winter will be colder than average for 3/4 of the U.S., and above average over just 1/8 of the country. Only the Pacific Northwest and the upper Midwest near Minnesota are predicted to be warmer than average. For the Appalachian region that includes the three woolly bear forecasts I discussed last week, the Old Farmer's Almanac is siding with Oil Valley Vick and Kelly the woolly bear, forecasting colder than average temperatures. The Hagerstown Woolly Bears and NOAA disagree, predicting warmer than average temperatures are more likely.

How accurate is the Old Farmer's Almanac?
The Old Farmer's Almanac claims to have a secret formula developed in 1792 based on sunspots and climatology, which gives their long-range predictions 80% accuracy. I've heard a number of anecdotal stories about how uncannily accurate their forecasts are, and have always felt a vague sort of anxiety that maybe I should be checking them out when someone asks me what the upcoming winter will be like. However, the Almanac does not post any verification statistics of their forecasts. It is not hard to do a simple check of their forecast accuracy, though. Unfortunately, the results of my check and those done by several others show that there is little reason to believe that the Old Farmer's Almanac forecasts are any better than flipping a coin.


Figure 1. Observed departure of temperature from average for the period Nov. 2004-Mar. 2005. Superimposed in bold text is the winter forecast made in the 2004 Old Farmer's Almanac for the same period. The Almanac got four regions correct and eight incorrect, with two too close to call.

For example, for the winter of 2004-2005 (Figure 1), the November 2004 version of the Old Farmer's Almanac made a simple prediction of "cold" or "mild" for sixteen separate regions of the U.S. The original forecast map they presented only labels the U.S. in fourteen places, and I've overlaid these predictions on a temperature anomaly map showing what actually happened during the winter of 2004-2005. If we assume that "mild" refers to an above average temperature forecast and "cold" refers to a below average temperature forecast, then the Almanac got four regions correct, eight wrong, with two too close to call. Admittedly, I've "eyeballed" this, and it is a subjective verification. Still, I don't see any way that this forecast could approach even 50% (chance) accuracy. Their precipitation forecast fared better, with seven correct regions, five incorrect, and two too close to call. I also looked at the Farmer's Almanac forecasts for the winter of 2006-2007. They did much worse that winter, with only three of sixteen temperature forecasts verifying, and five out of twelve precipitation forecasts verifying (four were too close to call). For these two winters, the Old Farmer's Almanac made a successful forecast just 37% of the time.

Studies by Jan Null
Jan Null, a meteorologist who founded the private weather consulting firm, Golden Gate Weather in California, has evaluated the Old Farmer's Almanac predictions for San Francisco for three separate years. His first study looked at the forecasts for 1999-2000. His conclusion: "Even trying to be objective and giving the benefit of the doubt to cases that were close, I found last year's forecast from the Old Farmer's 2000 Almanac for San Francisco to be laughable at best and abysmal at worst. The Old Farmer's Almanac was wrong on their monthly temperature forecast 8 out of the 12 months (67%) and wrong on their rainfall forecast 5 of the 8 months evaluated (63%)". His grade for the Old Farmer's Almanac winter forecast for San Francisco during 2006-2007 was a D+. He also evaluated the Old Farmer's Almanac for two separate summers and winters for all sixteen regions of the U.S., and found mostly poor results. For the summer of 2005, just one of the sixteen Old Farmer's Almanac regional forecasts got both the temperature and the precipitation correct. He plans to post a verification of their 2008 summer forecast sometime in the next week.

Weatherwise magazine study
In the October 1981 issue of Weatherwise magazine, pages 212-215, John E. Walsh and David Allen performed a check on the accuracy of 60 monthly forecasts of temperature and precipitation from the Old Farmer's Almanac at 32 stations in the U.S. They found that 50.7% of the monthly temperature forecasts and 51.9% of the precipitation forecasts verified with the correct sign. This compares with the 50% success rate expected by chance.

Old Farmer's Almanac climate forecast
It's also of interest to note that the Old Farmer's Almanac believes that sunspot cycles and other factors suggest that "a cold, not warm climate may be in our future". Their climate forecaster is Joeseph D'Aleo, who was the first Director of Meteorology at the Weather Channel. Mr. D'Aleo is now retired, and is often quoted for his skeptical opinions about climate change.

Conclusion
The results of my forecast verifications and those done by several others indicate that there is little reason to believe the Old Farmer's Almanac claim of 80% accuracy. These verifications attempted to be fair, but one can justifiably argue they were not objective nor complete. However, unless the Almanac posts some scientific evidence to the contrary, I won't believe their forecasts are any better than flipping a coin. One's best bet for the upcoming winter forecast is to use NOAA's prediction, which calls for an an above-average chance of a warm winter across the center portion of the U.S. If you live in Banner Elk, North Carolina, it might be wise to go with Kelly the Woolly worm's forecast of a cold winter, though, given the success of her predecessors!

Tropical disturbance near Costa Rica
An area of disturbed weather (96L) has developed in the extreme southern Caribbean, near the coast of Costa Rica. Wind shear is a hefty 20-30 knots over the disturbance, which will keep any development slow. The disturbance will bring heavy rains to Costa Rica and Nicaragua through Wednesday. If the center can stay off shore, this disturbance has the potential to develop into a tropical depression. NHC is giving a moderate (20-50% chance) that 96L will develop into a tropical depression by Wednesday morning. The GFDL model does develop 96L, but none of the other models do. I'll have an update on the system this afternoon if it gets more organized.

Jeff Masters

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322. Skyepony (Mod)
They took AF307 out today & chucked a sonde 132 miles (212 km) to the SSW (196°) from Pensacola, FL, USA. Look at the shear..

1024mb (Surface) 15° (from the NNE) 16 knots (18 mph)
996mb 20° (from the NNE) 22 knots (25 mph)
948mb 20° (from the NNE) 20 knots (23 mph)
935mb 10° (from the N) 16 knots (18 mph)
920mb 350° (from the N) 21 knots (24 mph)
890mb 325° (from the NW) 17 knots (20 mph)
850mb 320° (from the NW) 21 knots (24 mph)
793mb 310° (from the NW) 19 knots (22 mph)
769mb 325° (from the NW) 25 knots (29 mph)
718mb 305° (from the NW) 19 knots (22 mph)
655mb 315° (from the NW) 24 knots (28 mph)
603mb 300° (from the WNW) 28 knots (32 mph)
460mb 315° (from the NW) 38 knots (44 mph)
355mb 290° (from the WNW) 41 knots (47 mph)
313mb 280° (from the W) 56 knots (64 mph)
307mb 280° (from the W) 82 knots (94 mph)
299mb 270° (from the W) 57 knots (66 mph)
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Check out this site...an example bad placement of thermometers. And I know there is no way that NCDC checks the quality of this data.
Link
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If they leave the earthview camera on for the next ten minutes on the ISS, I think we can get a realtime view of 96L

the link I use in Media player is
Link
Member Since: July 12, 2007 Posts: 0 Comments: 6049
319. Skyepony (Mod)
It's all good conchygirl, our weather has been too nice. I hope for a little rain from this front. Like Pottery, dreading the dry season. Dusty already & it's time to throw the pasture winter rye, atleast according to the Farmer's Almanac garden moon calender & the mid 80ºs seem done for the season. So been tackling the leaves too but raking & dumping in my leafy compost. Gonna rake a little done compost in over the seed & probibly have to water good for 5 days or so.
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Cotillion, the GFDL can't be drunk.
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Quoting Skyepony:
96L is having an impact....

One Dead, 5.000 in Shelters Due To Rain in Limón
One dead, some 5.000 evacuated in 39 communities, 17 towns cut off and 28 roads affected are the result of the rain that has been falling on the Caribbean coast for the last five days.

The areas of Sixaola and Bribri, on the southern part of the province of Limón are completely cut off from the rest of the country, and the water is also threatening the plantations and livelihood of many of the residents.

The Comisión Nacional de Emergencias (CNE) - national emergency commission - along with the Cruz Roja Costarricense (Red Cross) and government agencies, have been busy trying to get to the affected, providing shelters, food and fresh water.

However, the rain is not ceasing.

MORE
Wow, that is just horrible. Guess I need to check closer before opening my mouth!
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Me too - Dinner Prep & off to the barn Later
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The GFDL is drunk.
Member Since: August 23, 2008 Posts: 7 Comments: 5300
314. JRRP
Link
GFDL
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LOL

HI surfmom...just in for a cool drink and quick blog check! Hope you're having a great day...back to work.
Member Since: September 2, 2008 Posts: 97 Comments: 32313
Rob, ....I'll put that in the treasure chest and throw away the key LOL
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Live Interaction w/the ColdFront - SRQ...took lunch on the run... Saw Tampaspins map and figured to run into the front. So much fun to look towards Tampa and see the distinct could, dark skyline moving towards me -- timed it perfectly, The front "chased me back" with the last half mile a perfect light drizzle..... Maps in real time -- It's so much fun to read the flags blowing in the wind,read the clouds..get the timing down - understand what I'm looking at, being right under "The Line" -- Think this might make the horse track very nice to ride -- The track is rock hard -- no rain or moisture - this kind of drizzle and all the additional horse traffic as people return will make the track the consistency horse love to trot and canter on.
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The driven man...

Really, it's like this...I look at the list and seek out the greatest ROI (return on investment) No way all this stuff gets done this week, so what can I do that requires the least amount of work and "looks" like something really got accomplished. Fire up mower and mulch majority of leaves, repair leaf blower and blow leaves from around house and into woods where nature will take it's course. (who the heck left that door open...almost messed up there)...bust my butt for an hour, missy comes home and it "looks" like I've been slaving away...don't tell that I fixed the blower...tell her how someone left mower with no gas and used last of can and didn't tell me...feels a bit sorry 4 me...household bliss. ROI Next item...

Oops! sorry guys, may have revealed too much LOL

BTW Pottery, big fan of composting, Most of property is wooded...you should have seen the compost pile I had after Charlie/Francis/Jeanne...Big as a house.
Member Since: September 2, 2008 Posts: 97 Comments: 32313
In fact, a healthy forest is dependent entirely on falling leaves, trees, branches, for its success. Forest biomass is always in equilibrium due to the continual recycling that goes on. The soil is never impoverished. And a layer of litter on the floor prevents erosion, and keeps temps under control.
The termites, fungi, mosses, worms and other critters, down to microscopic, all serve to break the litter down to useable nutrient for growth.
Of course, sunlight and rain are vital. But if you raked a forest you would kill it in a couple years. Fire is bad, but a least the nutrient remains behind in the ash.
Sorry to wander off topic there.
Here endeth the 1st. lesson.
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Raking dry leaves is ok, if you use the leaves after.
Leaf litter contains all the natural chemistry needed for good soil health, and strong growth.
The dry leaves are part of the cycle of trees. They are supposed to fall off, and they are supposed to stay on the ground under the tree, so that when they decompose, the tree is supplied with a dose of nutrient for the new growth-season.
So, if you can, keep the leaves in a mulch enclosure, or even in a hole in the ground. When they decompose you can use this mulch instead of fertiliser. The mulch will also contain earthworms, and critters of all sorts that will benefit growth of potted plants etc.
Leaf litter is good stuff. Try to use it instead of dumping it.

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Quoting RobDaHood:
Yeah, guess I don't get it...if all those leaves weren't supposed to be on the ground then why did they fall there...Car rolls right over them, dog don't seem to mind...cat likes to jump and make crunchy noises...but I guess I'm supposed to clear a perimeter around the house today.


It's like that on my college campus. They get the leaves nice and pilled up and the wind blows them back out before they get picked up. What's worse is the squirrels and stundents jumping in them. It's nothing to see a person running and jumping into a pile of leaves.
Member Since: July 6, 2005 Posts: 71 Comments: 2485
Flooding in Brazil has killed 68 so far, mostly from mudslides. Also in Columbia, due to volcano eruption, several deaths due to landslides.
videos at BBC.
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Just checking in to see what the talk is about today. Hi Sully. Have to check your forecast next, just checked Blizz. It is fairly nice out today with temp in the upper 30s. Partly cloudy
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looks like the GFS has changed it's mind in not stalling a front over the weekend for the southeast.
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There goes a driven man............
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think I may have been spotted "goofing off"...
-later
Member Since: September 2, 2008 Posts: 97 Comments: 32313
Yeah, guess I don't get it...if all those leaves weren't supposed to be on the ground then why did they fall there...Car rolls right over them, dog don't seem to mind...cat likes to jump and make crunchy noises...but I guess I'm supposed to clear a perimeter around the house today.
Member Since: September 2, 2008 Posts: 97 Comments: 32313
96L has been pounding Costarica with heavy rain. Not a nice situation there.
Thanks Skye.
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LOL Rob. Me too. But now, she has gone out heheheh.
Fixing some plumbing, preparing for dry times. Not looking forward to dry season at all at all.
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Hey Pottery,

Same here, beautiful day...slippin in between honey-do items...
Member Since: September 2, 2008 Posts: 97 Comments: 32313
Hello ! Anyone here ? Just checking in for a short one.
Its hot, breezy, not a cloud around. Nice for the beach.....
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NEwxguy,

So far we have 4.8" of snow here, heading for around 5". The backend of a wqeak deformation band is over my area right now and should be for at least the next 90 minutes.
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295. Skyepony (Mod)
96L is having an impact....

One Dead, 5.000 in Shelters Due To Rain in Limón
One dead, some 5.000 evacuated in 39 communities, 17 towns cut off and 28 roads affected are the result of the rain that has been falling on the Caribbean coast for the last five days.

The areas of Sixaola and Bribri, on the southern part of the province of Limón are completely cut off from the rest of the country, and the water is also threatening the plantations and livelihood of many of the residents.

The Comisión Nacional de Emergencias (CNE) - national emergency commission - along with the Cruz Roja Costarricense (Red Cross) and government agencies, have been busy trying to get to the affected, providing shelters, food and fresh water.

However, the rain is not ceasing.

MORE
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Quoting RTLSNK:
Bye guys, bug man is here, gonna set off a small anti wolf spider device under the house in the crawl space, have decided to go medieval on the fangy little things. LOL


LMAO, why do I get this mental picture of miniature M18A1 Claymore's ringing your house?

Nice to see everyone in fine form today...In lurk mode...
Member Since: September 2, 2008 Posts: 97 Comments: 32313
Dr.Masters,
Any thoughts on Storm Session on the Weather Channel?
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Quoting NEwxguy:
GM,all,hope your weather is better than mine,rain and more rain,some coastal locations have wind gusts over 50.
Ours is really nice here in Melbourne, FL. We'll try to send better weather your way!
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GM,all,hope your weather is better than mine,rain and more rain,some coastal locations have wind gusts over 50.
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Bye guys, bug man is here, gonna set off a small anti wolf spider device under the house in the crawl space, have decided to go medieval on the fangy little things. LOL
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Good Morning All: Haven't been on in a few days - a bit busy. Interesting to see 96L which doesn't appear that it will have any impact. Nice to see the winter blog continuing.
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283. vortfix 10:17
It appears the spaghetti's are no longer being run or published regarding 96L

It's not spaghetti, It's a doughnut. For breakfast.
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Got our 5 minutes of rain. Sending it on South.
Saw a shark coming near, between me and the beach (swam out past the bars, E coast), doing that feeding mode twitching (the shark, not me;). I swam without splashing (dog paddle) straight toward him, and he left.
Your results may vary.
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Mom
They already have a fullproof shark repellant.
It's called "geography" lol
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96l'S CENTER apppears to be near 82W,10.5N.....looks much more exposed than yesterday,w/a mid level circulation displaced to the north,further organization w/be slow with the chance of a TD or TS by thanksgiving if it can stay over water,the surface low has moved wsw in the last 24hrs...
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273 - Surfmom - Yeah, the Navy has done extensive testing with all kinds of repellents and emergency rafts and so on. I had a friend who was a Navy Seal, he had some wild stories about sharks and various sea monsters!hahaha Won't tell you any of them. I have watched nearly all of the Discovery and Natl Geo docs on sharks and one of them stands out. Marine biologist said on one of them "man is not on a sharks normal diet, and very often one will bite a diver because he is wearing a wet suit that makes him look like a seal. He will then realize that the diver is not a fish and let go." My brain instantly said to itself - the key phrase there was "BITE A DIVER", the shark swims off a little ways and says to itself, hmmm, blood, hmmm, my job is to clean up anything bleeding in my ocean, hmmm, HEY FRED, lunch is here!!!! LOL
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Have a good AM -- Got some work tasks to get done for Boss-Spouse, as well as domestics.....catch you all lunch time...... : )
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272 - Vortfix - ROFLMAO - gives a whole new visual impact to the phrase-"hes toast"
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Quoting RTLSNK:
I think a wetsuit made out of Kevlar would be a great idea, with matching Kevlar footies and gloves, maybe a helmet with spikes, a small phaser, an anti-grav unit, wait a minute, I think I'm crossing my participles.
Eventually I beleive they will come up with some kind of natural repellent, .... my Dad recalled from the navy that when they wrapped underwater equipment in black... the sharks would mess with it.... but for some reason (unverifiable) he seemed to recall that they switch to Brown and then the sharks were no longer interested. Have always wondered about that

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Jeff co-founded the Weather Underground in 1995 while working on his Ph.D. He flew with the NOAA Hurricane Hunters from 1986-1990.