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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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!!!
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161 Rob
My nephew kept repeating to himself,"Live to fish another day".
He talked with the capt of a 26 ftr that thought he'd run out to check things out. After thirty minutes he gave up and the waves were so steep and close together it took him another hour to find a slot he could turn around in. When he got back to the dock both of his crew were on the floor laying in their own puke and his forehead was gashed when a wave blew his widshield out.
Member Since: September 11, 2008 Posts: 9 Comments: 10165
Quoting AstroHurricane001:

I believe that's a hole-in-a-cloud, the surrounding cloud is cirrocumulus and cirrus clouds are within the hole. Very interesting formation, I think I've seen something similar to that before, but not as nearly as stunning.
i beleive a disturbance causes them normally overhesd jets cause the ice crystals to evaporate if you look at the pitures there is another behind
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Yeah, pretty heafty price, and then I have to store it on the coast...can't really justify it...but one can dream...
Member Since: September 2, 2008 Posts: 101 Comments: 33552
#163 Rob
A fellow in town has a Mares Cat with two 300 mercs. I think they go about $250,00. It is a wonderful ocean fishing machine!!!!
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Quoting TampaSpin:
Very unsual siting in Tampa today......look at this cloud formation......



heres the link....Link

I believe that's a hole-in-a-cloud, the surrounding cloud is cirrocumulus and cirrus clouds are within the hole. Very interesting formation, I think I've seen something similar to that before, but not as nearly as stunning.
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# 160
Shep, the Onslow Bay is a new boat this year..build a 23 and a 26..They gave that boat to Randell for the year.. looks like a good move !!!!
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163. MissNadia

Nice, really wanting one of these but still out of my league...maybe after the economy turns around...playing it conservative right now.
Member Since: September 2, 2008 Posts: 101 Comments: 33552
Quoting RobDaHood:
149. MissNadia

Didn't think to take pics this weekend, but might do it again next week. (gotta take advantage of low gas prices while they last) Will get some pictures to post for you. BTW, one guy had a 16 ft checkmate with a new Merc 150 on it. Runs 65 before gettin a little to squirrely and averages 9 mpg. We were all crying at the gas pumps on day 2 when he still had half a tank.

I have a tunnel hull cat that will do an honest 65 ready to fish.... full bait well.. full fuel.. ect IN THE OCEAN if itsn't too rough
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New blog entry
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160. theshepherd
but everybody else not in immediate danger found the true meaning of "small craft advisory"

hahahaha...aint no fish worth that!
Member Since: September 2, 2008 Posts: 101 Comments: 33552
Miss Nadia
That's quite a boat ya'll build in Wilmington.
A Florida based 23' Onslow won the Biloxi tourney.
Steep 10 foot seas Friday reeked havoc on the Contenders and Everglades T-tops. That was a Wellcraft hull that broke in half.
8 foot seas Saturday. Boats were grounded and washed ashore islands all over the place. Coast Guard choppered in the crew of the Wellcraft, but everybody else not in immediate danger found the true meaning of "small craft advisory" and had to sit for hours.
The smart ones went to the casinos lol
Member Since: September 11, 2008 Posts: 9 Comments: 10165
149. MissNadia

Didn't think to take pics this weekend, but might do it again next week. (gotta take advantage of low gas prices while they last) Will get some pictures to post for you. BTW, one guy had a 16 ft checkmate with a new Merc 150 on it. Runs 65 before gettin a little to squirrely and averages 9 mpg. We were all crying at the gas pumps on day 2 when he still had half a tank.
Member Since: September 2, 2008 Posts: 101 Comments: 33552
154. TampaSpin

Way cool pic!
Member Since: September 2, 2008 Posts: 101 Comments: 33552
Quoting theshepherd:
154 tampa
ET phoned home


lol,,,,,,maybe so..LOL
Member Since: September 2, 2007 Posts: 179 Comments: 20448
154 tampa
ET phoned home
Member Since: September 11, 2008 Posts: 9 Comments: 10165
155. HadesGodWyvern (Mod)
no, lol it's not named yet.
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Very unsual siting in Tampa today......look at this cloud formation......



heres the link....Link
Member Since: September 2, 2007 Posts: 179 Comments: 20448
Quoting MissNadia:

I have never seen one, but then again, I like the girl stuff!!!


hehe...edited my post, read again...girls are welcome to play with us...they just gotta be a tad fearless!
Member Since: September 2, 2008 Posts: 101 Comments: 33552
Quoting HadesGodWyvern:


cyclone watch for Tamil-Nadu?


It's seriously called Tamil-Nadu?

That's just ironic.

(It's right by the NE of Sri Lanka, where the Tamil Tiger separatist group often reside in.)
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151. HadesGodWyvern (Mod)


cyclone watch for Tamil-Nadu?
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96L looks like it is just a bunch of flare ups
it could be one of those invests that take three days to form but it will run into land by then
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Quoting RobDaHood:


I really think your kidding me, but Big Block Chevy or Ford, driving an impellor like on a jet ski...70 to 100 mph, big rooster tails, typical macho guy stuff, but so much fun.

I have never seen one, but then again, I like the girl stuff!!!
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Quoting MissNadia:

What is a jet boat?


I really think your kidding me, but Big Block Chevy or Ford, driving an impellor like on a jet ski...70 to 100 mph, big rooster tails, typical macho guy stuff, but so much fun. My girlfriend loves it BTW...anything loud and fast suits her. All the guys get jealous.
Member Since: September 2, 2008 Posts: 101 Comments: 33552
lets wait for o nine to get here first
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Quoting RobDaHood:
137. MissNadia
Nope, work on hold see post # 139...you know you really should post a pic to my blog, or would that ruin the mystery? How are things your way...spent the weekend boating with friends, almost embarrassed to say how nice it has been.

What is a jet boat?
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Quoting KEEPEROFTHEGATE:
needs to cook not ready yet


excellent way to put it!
Member Since: September 2, 2008 Posts: 101 Comments: 33552
137. MissNadia
Nope, work on hold see post # 139...you know you really should post a pic to my blog, or would that ruin the mystery? How are things your way...spent the weekend boating with friends, almost embarrassed to say how nice it has been.
Member Since: September 2, 2008 Posts: 101 Comments: 33552
Quoting Seastep:
Actually looks to be starting to get back together to me. Just can't decide where it wants to be.
needs to cook not ready yet
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135. Cotillion

Almost hate to say it, but beautiful day here, highs in the mid seventies, should be that way most of the week...Taking this week off from work since Angie has the week off. Honey-do lists, of course, but weather so nice, who cares?
Member Since: September 2, 2008 Posts: 101 Comments: 33552
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

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Good Evening Mr. De Hood...work all done for the day?
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surfmom's pup is on my blog as well as an nice vid courtesy of beell
Member Since: September 2, 2008 Posts: 101 Comments: 33552
Quoting RobDaHood:


Nice guess, how are you tonight my friend? Staying warm I hope!


I could be a million times better.

But, I am at least warm. Yourself?
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Quoting Cotillion:


I'm putting 10 bucks on Rotterdam.



Nice guess, how are you tonight my friend? Staying warm I hope!
Member Since: September 2, 2008 Posts: 101 Comments: 33552
lol - thanks for that cotillion.
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Quoting Seastep:
Actually looks to be starting to get back together to me. Just can't decide where it wants to be.


I'm putting 10 bucks on Rotterdam.

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Shear's weakening, looking a bit better organized, so it could still likely become a td.
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Actually looks to be starting to get back together to me. Just can't decide where it wants to be.
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I think this invest just started a new weakening trend and I doubt this season has anything else to offer
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Quoting Patrap:
NEXRAD Radar
New Orleans, Base Reflectivity 0.50 Degree Elevation Range 124 NMI,..Squall Line associated withthe Frontal Boundary Link


Are those boxes lightning strikes? Have never turned that on.
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Stop talking about Florida, eddye! jk
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125. eddye
HOW COLD WILL IT GET IN PALM BEACH
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Quoting Seastep:
92. hurricanemaniac123

I think it is two reasons.

1. Shear
2. Keep repositioning it farther W and if that is, in fact, the center, then it will be over Nicaragua or CR before it has time to develop into anything.


Looks to be 2 mid level centers. One moving wsw into land the other closer to SA.
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Hi - don't know if this link has been posted (probably has) - Cayman Brac Paloma video - take care ...

Link
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NEXRAD Radar
New Orleans, Base Reflectivity 0.50 Degree Elevation Range 124 NMI,..Squall Line associated withthe Frontal Boundary 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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