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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222. CaicosRetiredSailor
2:32 AM GMT on November 25, 2008
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
Member Since: July 12, 2007 Posts: 0 Comments: 5996
221. Drakoen
2:30 AM GMT on November 25, 2008
Quoting antonio28:
Hurricane seson 2008 is history, I am a weather fan, especialy with the tropical systems for obvious reason my home is Puerto Rico all live long.

I found this blog this year and is with out any doubt is the best live tropical systems information place available in America.

Here we have guys who forescast at NHC standard and do it live and free, to mention some of the names that cames to my mind:

Ike, Drakoen, Strom W, Kamanislander among other.

And of corse Orca with his exelent blog.

Thanks to WeatherUnderground.com and all who makes this blog posible.

I will be log in on June 01, 2009.



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.
Member Since: October 28, 2006 Posts: 57 Comments: 29886
220. KEEPEROFTHEGATE (Mod)
2:29 AM GMT on November 25, 2008
Quoting kmanislander:


The convection is blowing up tonight and the " spin " looks better than at anytime today. Perhaps the swan song for the 2008 season
yet thats what iam figuring one last run should be it
Member Since: July 15, 2006 Posts: 169 Comments: 53296
219. kmanislander
2:28 AM GMT on November 25, 2008
I'm out for tonight. 96L will hopefully cap off a very interesting season. This late would suggest no further development but the year has been filled with systems defying the norm.

Have a great evening all. Will check in tomorrow.
Member Since: August 19, 2006 Posts: 0 Comments: 15725
218. kmanislander
2:24 AM GMT on November 25, 2008
One of the paradoxes of having great insulation is that it also holds the internal heat inside the home. It is surprising how much heat appliances, computers,halogen lights etc can generate inside a home.

My kitchen alone tends to run 2 degrees warmer than the rest of the home. Something to think about when trying to conserve energy and keep a home cool.
Member Since: August 19, 2006 Posts: 0 Comments: 15725
217. vortfix
2:23 AM GMT on November 25, 2008
Photobucket

Photobucket


Good luck 96L.

Member Since: October 29, 2007 Posts: 135 Comments: 46068
216. kmanislander
2:20 AM GMT on November 25, 2008
214. zoomiami 2:18 AM GMT on November 25, 2008

The funny thing is that my home has so much insulation that the outside temp was lower than the inside over the last week. Kind of silly to run the a/c to cool the home to match outside temp so turned it off and opened the windows !
Member Since: August 19, 2006 Posts: 0 Comments: 15725
215. kmanislander
2:18 AM GMT on November 25, 2008
Quoting KEEPEROFTHEGATE:
been watchin for a few days now its waiting for everything to come together then we may have something if not already


The convection is blowing up tonight and the " spin " looks better than at anytime today. Perhaps the swan song for the 2008 season
Member Since: August 19, 2006 Posts: 0 Comments: 15725
214. zoomiami
2:18 AM GMT on November 25, 2008
Winter in the tropics is what every one puts up with the rest for. Its beautiful.
Member Since: August 13, 2007 Posts: 10 Comments: 4141
213. kmanislander
2:16 AM GMT on November 25, 2008
Quoting zoomiami:
Hi Kman, good to see you - how are things on the island?


Really nice now. Low 70s in the morning with fresh NE winds near 25 mph. Cool days with the windows open and no rain.

" Winter " is on the way LMAO
Member Since: August 19, 2006 Posts: 0 Comments: 15725
212. zoomiami
2:15 AM GMT on November 25, 2008
Nice to see Orca has new pics for us, also very glad storm time is over - I think we've already had more cold fronts this month then all of last year.
Member Since: August 13, 2007 Posts: 10 Comments: 4141
211. zoomiami
2:14 AM GMT on November 25, 2008
Hi Kman, good to see you - how are things on the island?
Member Since: August 13, 2007 Posts: 10 Comments: 4141
210. KEEPEROFTHEGATE (Mod)
2:11 AM GMT on November 25, 2008
been watchin for a few days now its waiting for everything to come together then we may have something if not already
Member Since: July 15, 2006 Posts: 169 Comments: 53296
209. theshepherd
2:09 AM GMT on November 25, 2008
Quoting TampaSpin:
Very unsual siting in Tampa today......look at this cloud formation......



heres the link....Link
Big score with that one ol' buddy.
NOAA lists that as "hole punch clouds" formed by ice crystals falling through cloud layer. Created by jet exhaust. Your's is by far better than any one they have featured. You should submit it to them. You'll be imortalized in cyber space LOL
OOPS..just saw the Baynews9 reference.
Member Since: September 11, 2008 Posts: 9 Comments: 10077
208. kmanislander
2:03 AM GMT on November 25, 2008
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
Member Since: August 19, 2006 Posts: 0 Comments: 15725
207. kmanislander
1:58 AM GMT on November 25, 2008
Steering layers now showing a weakness in the NW Caribbean and the Eastern GOM between two high pressure systems. This would tend to open the door for 96L to head NNW or N.

Shear would be the inhibiting factor against significant development.

Link
Member Since: August 19, 2006 Posts: 0 Comments: 15725
206. KEEPEROFTHEGATE (Mod)
1:56 AM GMT on November 25, 2008
Quoting KEEPEROFTHEGATE:
nice flare near 30 55 strong non tropical system open atlantic moving se ward
96l stalled will pull n beginning at end of week in response to a dev boundry and low pressure over se gulf states fri into weekend after current system over lakes pulls away to ne
we still may have a hat trick
5 days to go

Member Since: July 15, 2006 Posts: 169 Comments: 53296
205. KEEPEROFTHEGATE (Mod)
1:52 AM GMT on November 25, 2008
Quoting Hurricane4Lex:


I know I'm late to announce but wow how that happen that's a great pic

maybe its the invisible alien aircraft that keeps hurricanes away from tampa

just right weather conditions brought it to visibility
more likly somebody dump a porta pottyas they flew over
Member Since: July 15, 2006 Posts: 169 Comments: 53296
204. kmanislander
1:51 AM GMT on November 25, 2008
Good evening folks

96L continues to sit and spin near 11n 81W and seems to be migrating ever so slowly to the NNW.

Sat imagery does show a very well defined spin near those coordinates and the 850 mb vort has improved over the course of the day. Very little in the way of a surface low over the course of the last 2 days but perhaps that is changing.

Quikscat tonight will hopefully tell us whether any development is at the surface or whether it remains restricted to the mid levels of the atmosphere.
Member Since: August 19, 2006 Posts: 0 Comments: 15725
203. antonio28
1:37 AM GMT on November 25, 2008
Hurricane seson 2008 is history, I am a weather fan, especialy with the tropical systems for obvious reason my home is Puerto Rico all live long.

I found this blog this year and is with out any doubt is the best live tropical systems information place available in America.

Here we have guys who forescast at NHC standard and do it live and free, to mention some of the names that cames to my mind:

Ike, Drakoen, Strom W, Kamanislander among other.

And of corse Orca with his exelent blog.

Thanks to WeatherUnderground.com and all who makes this blog posible.

I will be log in on June 01, 2009.

Member Since: July 15, 2008 Posts: 0 Comments: 799
202. papasturgeon
1:21 AM GMT on November 25, 2008
Forest Gump hit close to home. I had polio -like symptoms growing up, Mom died from Leukemia when I was 9 months old..my earliest memories were of braces and pain, and getting laughed at by my buddies, they actually did tie me up to a flag pole in Niagara Falls New York! Course, I never got to shmooze with Presidents and my first fire fight cost me my partner, I was a medic. No heroics,it was the tail end and it was a mess. But I'd drop everything I am doing right now if they asked me to do it again.Social Work is my way back, figure I can do alot of good with the guys fighten now.
Member Since: August 10, 2008 Posts: 0 Comments: 9
201. Orcasystems
1:07 AM GMT on November 25, 2008
Complete Blog Refresh
Mirror Site
Member Since: October 1, 2007 Posts: 81 Comments: 26511
Quoting theshepherd:
Thank you for your service, Sir.
I still carry my 1968 draft card in my pocket.
No expiration date on it.
God speed...


-
Member Since: October 1, 2007 Posts: 81 Comments: 26511
Quoting papasturgeon:
Appreciated the musical energy earlier, Tampa.I came back from'nam and spent 1975-1985 in a very horrible place. It's so nice now to revisit those years through the music....I can lament about how much I missed, or throughly enjoy it because it never truly dies. I was so excited when Led Zep got together for the gig in London, still hoping they might tour over here. As much as I enjoy the new metal, it just doesn't hold a candle to these primo trend setters
Thank you for your service, Sir.
I still carry my 1968 draft card in my pocket.
No expiration date on it.
God speed...
Member Since: September 11, 2008 Posts: 9 Comments: 10077
Quoting fo:
It's going to rain here in SC pretty soon...


Soon?? or is!

Member Since: October 1, 2007 Posts: 81 Comments: 26511
197. fo
It's going to rain here in SC pretty soon...
Member Since: December 30, 2007 Posts: 15 Comments: 72
Lost my wallet in Giant Foods today, couldn't have been more then 2 minutes b4 I realized it was gone....just when I'm getting back into that existential lovin the world, cumbuya, it's why I'm going into social work frame of mind, reality snatches it away....I'm putting myself through Social Work school on meager tips parking cars and had the weekends booty ready for a deposit....collective sigh of "who really cares" and lets get back to the weather.
Member Since: August 10, 2008 Posts: 0 Comments: 9
Quoting pearlandaggie:
192. it did here in Pearland! LOL...and where I work...in Freeport. maybe you chased it away! :)


LOL I think I did! it was dry and very unusually sunny today (in Shadow Creek Ranch) when I was putting up the rest of the xmas lights

interesting how 2 sides of the same place could be so different!!! LOL

also Houston was just as dry but I know know about the rest of the day there (since I left at noon)
Member Since: August 14, 2008 Posts: 0 Comments: 658
192. it did here in Pearland! LOL...and where I work...in Freeport. maybe you chased it away! :)
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Appreciated the musical energy earlier, Tampa.I came back from'nam and spent 1975-1985 in a very horrible place. It's so nice now to revisit those years through the music....I can lament about how much I missed, or throughly enjoy it because it never truly dies. I was so excited when Led Zep got together for the gig in London, still hoping they might tour over here. As much as I enjoy the new metal, it just doesn't hold a candle to these primo trend setters
Member Since: August 10, 2008 Posts: 0 Comments: 9
LOL it was suppose to rain today here in Houston and ummmmmmmmmmmm......

It DiDn'T!!!!! LOL!!!!!!!!
Member Since: August 14, 2008 Posts: 0 Comments: 658
188. BUT, they CAN predict AGW! LOL
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
187. never sailed a Hobie Tiger, but I did sail a Hobie Cat...would consider buying one if I could find one close and reasonably priced!
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Quoting TampaSpin:
Very unsual siting in Tampa today......look at this cloud formation......



heres the link....Link


I know I'm late to announce but wow how that happen that's a great pic

maybe its the invisible alien aircraft that keeps hurricanes away from tampa

just right weather conditions brought it to visibility
Member Since: August 14, 2008 Posts: 0 Comments: 658
Now these Met. are forecasting from the same area in Richmond, VA. Tell me why can't people forecast the weather these days?



Member Since: Posts: Comments:
182. MissNadia

uhm...big diesel auxillary?

184. pearlandaggie

A Hobie Tiger is about the most fun you can have on the water without paying BIG fuel bills!

Okay, I go eat now.
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Quoting TampaSpin:
Very unsual siting in Tampa today......look at this cloud formation......



heres the link....Link


Hmm was this over TampMishy house by chance? Could it be the top of the infamous Troll Dome?
Member Since: October 1, 2007 Posts: 81 Comments: 26511
185. fo
SC!
leading showers were dissipating within dry airmass over the
region early Monday evening. Solid band of showers...associated
with upstream cold front/associated shortwave and jet maximum...was
advancing across northern Georgia and the upstate of SC and should
reach inland counties of the forecast area between 10 PM and
midnight...then should advance to the coast between midnight and 2
am. The primary upper vorticity driving the cold front will become
more diffuse overnight with the best forcing pushing through
central and northern SC. Weak upper- level jet divergence will
coincide with the frontal passage although slightly larger values
indicated by both the NAM and GFS over southern SC as opposed to
southeast Georgia. It still looks like a rather quick burst of showers
will push through overnight with the best coverage over southern
SC. Coastal Georgia is one region where little in the way of rainfall
is expected since the front could be drying up by the time it
reaches there. Have included a few hours of likely probability of precipitation in
southeast SC straddling midnight with solid chance most other
areas.
Member Since: December 30, 2007 Posts: 15 Comments: 72
Rob, i've never had as much sailing as i did when it was a catamaran! touche!
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howdy folks....

nasty, nasty mess!

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180
Some day when you are becalmed 30 miles off shore you and nature will soon be one.
Member Since: July 27, 2008 Posts: 0 Comments: 3002
179. theshepherd

could be...gotta run for a while...steak, salmon, and potatoes await on the grill...yum...back later.
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178. MissNadia

Now, yeah, but later...a lot to be said for the communion w/nature plus there is the fuel economy thing...a high performance cat rig is still a lot of fun and cheap to operate.
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177 rob
Fearless little critters...maybe they hear my crickets and chorus frogs singing ???
Member Since: September 11, 2008 Posts: 9 Comments: 10077
# 176
Rob, I did a lot of sailing, but now, for me, it's like watching grass grow.
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175. theshepherd

yeah, and wolf spiders contraflowin' into RTLSNK's garage...somethings up!
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172. MissNadia

hehehe...yeah, a bit much so I will resist as best as I can...real dream is to buy a big sailing cat and retire to a beautiful island one day. keeping the eye on the prize.
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Toad frogs were hopping today and the gypsy moths are buzzing around my windows tonight.
Gotta love that N Fla fickle weather.
Member Since: September 11, 2008 Posts: 9 Comments: 10077
171. theshepherd

Wow, the advantage of getting a bit older is having been scared enough times not to be afraid to say "not today"
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Quoting RobDaHood:
Yeah, pretty heafty price, and then I have to store it on the coast...can't really justify it...but one can dream...

It is way too much boat for the lake!!!
Member Since: July 27, 2008 Posts: 0 Comments: 3002

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About

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