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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Actually, Orca I had hopes I would just blend and he'd think I was a buddy --Also thought well, maybe this could afford a little "bite" protection.....NOT

Later that day, after seeing that Bull go past me, I went over to the other Jetty to see a fishermen and friend HAUL a bull out--- the teeth, the teeeth, the teeth.....OMG the teeth.

Makes a wet suit, just like a Candy Wrapper
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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.
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It's always a "tickle" for me when I have information for you guys LOL....
check this out Billabong - The Equator - features 100% metallite .5mm interior - metalite is a titanium coated interior acting like a thermal blanket trapping body heat and reflecting the elements. Sandwiched with a .5mm neoprene - most techno advance material avail. -- seamless

AquaFitness - this is a skin, very thin, like a leotard - Aqua Akins (Teflon, lycra-neoprene)

I surf in the Pyscho, by O'neil and layer underneath w/the above depending on the conditions
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Frontal Squall line coming.....not much there..

Member Since: September 2, 2007 Posts: 179 Comments: 20448
Quoting surfmom:
Thanks Vortfix for the insight.....post 260 ...actually you made my day by being honest.... most of the MEN just look at me and snicker, so I think it's just me being a whinner.

Your point regarding wetsuits is well taken, the materials and what we have today are amazing.... the flexibility, the seal off, far better... my favorite new favorite thing is how they use Titanium as insulation or Teflon-lycra-neoprene --these fabrics are amazing innovations


I take it thats for your little Bull shark friend? Makes their play toy last a little longer.. like unwrapping a Christmas present?
Member Since: October 1, 2007 Posts: 81 Comments: 26512
Do you think Jeff Masters realizes the networking that goes on here??? I often wonder if he reads our posts here & visits the blog board to see what we are up to & where we have the format he gave us.

Also wonder, if when he started WU, he fathomed such a "community" would evolve?

What continues to amaze me is that for all our diversity -- beside the commonality of Weather fascination -- there are a great many things we all resonant on. Socially -- i find the whole thing fascinating.... I have had the opportunity to meet more people of my genre here then in my town -- where often I feel like a stranger in a strange land. In other words, I find more "outside girls" here -- then I do in my community....
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Good Morning everyone. I just updated my blog if anyone would like to review.....

TampaSpins Weather Blog Link
Member Since: September 2, 2007 Posts: 179 Comments: 20448
Thanks Vortfix for the insight.....post 260 ...actually you made my day by being honest.... most of the MEN just look at me and snicker, so I think it's just me being a whinner.

Your point regarding wetsuits is well taken, the materials and what we have today are amazing.... the flexibility, the seal off, far better... my favorite new favorite thing is how they use Titanium as insulation or Teflon-lycra-neoprene --these fabrics are amazing innovations
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Kudo's to a lot of the people on this page.. when I mentioned going south for a quick vacation.. the offers and assistance made from members on here was unbelievable... we are quite the little family on here. The wife was blown away that people would do that for people they have never even met.

Complete Blog Refresh
Mirror Site
Member Since: October 1, 2007 Posts: 81 Comments: 26512
Carib is going OFF -saw beautiful & incredible pictures from PR. Looks like you'll have some EC waves on Thursday Ft. Pierce -- will you be able to get wet?
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Looking like a clean 2ftr Wednesday morning
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Way cold Ft.Pierce.... maybe it's me, but when I surf in this cold -- I am just knocked out for the day and maybe the next --my spirit is revived, but physically I get drained......my core gets cold and I'm chattering for a long time.....
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I think thats is going to be a cold paddle tomorrow morning surfmom
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I do see some waves drawn on the picture........only nice part about it
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251 - Ohhhh Vortfix -- that is just what I don't want to see.
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Wondering how 96L faired through the night.

Oh, after scrolling back -- THE ORCA WHALE IS A GOD......and if Harris hurt my kid.......LOL he'd regret it too. Just ask the dude I caught red-handed stealing my kids brand new bike.......several months ago...... CAT 5 Mom!!! Dude will think twice before he steals again
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Good Morning -- in briefly -- Looks like a nice day out there.... I've had it with the cold fronts........already!! -- I am a wuss -- surf site says another is coming our way... you know if you want to torture me -- turn on the cold
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Good morning...
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247. IKE
Quoting leftovers:
later this morning the costa rica surf cam needs to be showing onshore winds if our 96l is becoming more organized. never really liked led zepplin and those other rockers. more into jazz and the dead.


Hey...to each his own.

ZEP ROXS!
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245. IKE
137 hours....
52 minutes...
and it's over~



TROPICAL WEATHER OUTLOOK
NWS TPC/NATIONAL HURRICANE CENTER MIAMI FL
700 AM EST TUE NOV 25 2008

FOR THE NORTH ATLANTIC...CARIBBEAN SEA AND THE GULF OF MEXICO...

A LARGE AREA OF DISTURBED WEATHER CONTINUES OVER THE SOUTHWESTERN
CARIBBEAN SEA IN ASSOCIATION WITH A BROAD AREA OF LOW PRESSURE. THIS
SYSTEM REMAINS POORLY ORGANIZED AND FURTHER DEVELOPMENT...IF ANY...
IS EXPECTED TO BE SLOW TO OCCUR. HEAVY RAINS AND LOCALIZED FLOODING
OVER PORTIONS OF PANAMA...COSTA RICA...NICARAGUA...AND EASTERN
HONDURAS ARE LIKELY DURING THE NEXT COUPLE OF DAYS AS THE SYSTEM
DRIFTS WESTWARD.

ELSEWHERE...TROPICAL CYCLONE FORMATION IS NOT EXPECTED DURING THE
NEXT 48 HOURS.

$$

FORECASTER AVILA

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Good Morning 56F and cloudy with light SW wind here in ILM
Member Since: July 27, 2008 Posts: 0 Comments: 3003
Escucho Sonido. Silencio bajo el sonido.
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242. HadesGodWyvern (Mod)
20081125/0222z
SE-PAC 24.0S 156.7W 1006 MB 25 kts 99P "INVEST"
Member Since: May 24, 2006 Posts: 52 Comments: 46569
I could not sleep so i changed the music on my blog for you early risers.......hope you enjoy....

TampaSpins Weather Blog Link
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Well as a Minnesotan, I can tell you that the Farmers Almanac has missed the mark if they say that the Upper Midwest temperatures are going to be above average. So far this season, we have been pretty much right on target for what our climate was prior to the warm spell we have had.
It's been warmer than normal for the previous 5 years prior to 2007. Last year was closer to normal temperatures and like I said this year has pretty much been on target with the average. Precipitation on the other hand is still running a little behind normal, though we seemed to catch up pretty much during August and October. Now it's a wait and see how much snow we get. During this time we have gone from 24 inches on the ground to 0 inches on the ground. What we have gotten so far is probably with in average, but none of it has stayed on the ground. It all melts away with in a few hours of get 1/2 to 1 inch. At least here in the South side of the Twin Cities. I hear that there is more snow up in the Northern parts of Minnesota, but haven't seen this show up in the snow reports and haven't been up there myself to verify this. We need to get back into our old jet stream patterns where warm moist air is brought in from the Southern Pacific area and mixed with the cold air that we have now. Some folks that I've talked to think that we will get that more towards Jan. through Mar. Time will tell I guess. But so far we have plenty of cold air to go around. The ski slopes around here are making lots and lots of snow.
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BBL
You win Orca. Sure beats my tarpon experience...
Member Since: September 11, 2008 Posts: 9 Comments: 10148
The GFS is at it again with the feedback issues. Now there trying to develop a ridge over Florida for the upcoming weekend into the early next week. Looking at the NAO which is likely to stay Nagitive until after New Years(at the most). Plus the ridge out west(which will weaken and head southeast-word and park itself over deep south Texas during that time). The latest run of the long ranch GFS has been very unreliable lately(not to mention, all the other global models differ in amplifying a deep trough for the east. Courtesy of the -NAO).
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It was a rough movie to watch, he was a commercial fisherman with a good size boat, and he hooked a female Orca and hauled her up onto the deck with a crane and her baby came out and died on the deck with the father Orca watching. The Orca followed him back to the fishing town where Harris lived and began a reign of terror on the harbor destroying every boat and building in the harbor and killing everyone that fell in the water until Harris went back out to take him on one on one. Harris lost.
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Quoting RTLSNK:
232 - I remember that Movie with Richard Harris wasn't it where he killed the mother and baby Orca? I was pulling for the Orca.


I have never seen that.. but I know here if you hurt one.. you best be running for a long long time.. they are like gods up here.
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232 - I remember that Movie with Richard Harris wasn't it where he killed the mother and baby Orca? I was pulling for the Orca.
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Quoting RTLSNK:
230 - Orca - ROFLMAO - My kind of fishing!!


These guys could teach a redneck to fish :)
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230 - Orca - ROFLMAO - My kind of fishing!!
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Quoting KEEPEROFTHEGATE:
lol


Here is what happens when you peeve ORCA fishing :)
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lol
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How to catch very fresh BC Salmon :)
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Quoting KEEPEROFTHEGATE:
no orca cold rain temps are around 4 or 39 in my area all the snow we had is gone

Thats to bad.. I love it when it snows there :) I think about it every time about this part of the year..as I tee off on the course :)
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no orca cold rain temps are around 4 or 39 in my area all the snow we had is gone
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As kman noted earlier, 96L's circulation has become better defined. Satellite imagery and QuikSCAT data confirms this. The circulation still isn't closed, though, and I still don't think this is going to be a rapid developer, if it develops at all. Northern portion is still heavily sheared, as noted by the sharp cirrus spike stretching SW to NE along the northern portion of the circulation.

Still, shear has been steadily decreasing over the last 24 hours, and SSTs beneath 96L are warm, and so if it does good during the diurnal convective maximum, and maintains that convection through the diurnal minimum, it may have a shot at tropical depression status tomorrow evening.

Just my opinion, of course.
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KOG.. is it snowing yet :)

Member Since: October 1, 2007 Posts: 81 Comments: 26512
225. fo
Well, Texas was the closest state to Andrew... at least I think so
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Quoting Drakoen:


It probably a good idea for you not to come back untill June 1st lol. You don't want to have to deal with the pre-season drama.


Quoting KEEPEROFTHEGATE:
thats the best part drakoen


LOL! amen to that I'll probably be back when the 1st one forms (since historically the letter A has struck texas with the recent exception of this year ala Dolly and Ike and I think im forgetting another)
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thats the best part drakoen
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Quoting kmanislander:
Quikscat just downloaded for this evening. There is a small but very tight closed low near 10/11N 81W. If this persists we could see 96L upgraded to a high probability for development.

Link



Kman (if you haven't gone....)
the qscat for Pac area just S of Panama and the Low seems to show that the "circulation" is drawing from the Pacific
CRS
Link
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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.

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