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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When I lived in Northeastern NJ many years ago I did my own review of the Almanc's forecasts and came up with a less than 30% hit that one year. Darts worked just as well.
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Quoting MissNadia:


The only close friend that scored was Randall Eadens. He won the 23 and under class with a couple of mid 40s ,both caught on Saturday. I haven't had a chance to get together with him.
Good for him. He definetly earned it for sure...
Member Since: September 11, 2008 Posts: 9 Comments: 10093
96L looks to have a well defined circulation, wouldn't be surprised if this is upgraded tonight or in the morning if this trend continues.
Member Since: April 29, 2007 Posts: 0 Comments: 7931
Quoting theshepherd:
Yeah, that ol' "Flarda" boy was happy to hang at the hotel with a hot toddy and swap stories. How did your buds make out?


The only close friend that scored was Randall Eadens. He won the 23 and under class with a couple of mid 40s ,both caught on Saturday. I haven't had a chance to get together with him.
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59 Tampa
That sure was a wake up...
I built one of those SG double neckers once with six gold humbuckers and then let a friend steal it from me. Once was enough...
Member Since: September 11, 2008 Posts: 9 Comments: 10093
gm all,we have a high wind watch for tomorrow,possible damaging winds,going to be a nasty day.
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Quoting MissNadia:

Shep I haven't talked to anyone involved, but am hearing the same stuff...your nephew was the smart one!!!
Yeah, that ol' "Flarda" boy was happy to hang at the hotel with a hot toddy and swap stories. How did your buds make out?
Member Since: September 11, 2008 Posts: 9 Comments: 10093
good choice tampa...i like this song also....kinda mellow, but a great hook...

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Quoting Cotillion:
Also, it's predicting something similar to this:

Link


you're kidding right?

please not another major

heck rain is enough to cause damage
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doc may have an update later this afternoon if 96L gets more organized,which its been doing quite well so far this morning!!!!
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Good morning all :)

Complete Blog Refresh
Mirror Site

Still searching for the last minute vacation spot. Looks like the Mayan Riviera so far.. mind you.. I am only along for the ride.. I appear to have no say on the location :)
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Thought some of you rockers from the 70's might like this clip......

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Also, it's predicting something similar to this:

Link
Member Since: August 23, 2008 Posts: 7 Comments: 5300
Quoting theshepherd:
Hearing wild reports from Bilouxi Kingfish Tournament affected by weather.
Two soft tops, one hard top ripped off. One boat nearly ripped in half and had to be rescued by chopper.
Anyone with any first hand knowledge ???

MissNadia...any news???

Shep I haven't talked to anyone involved, but am hearing the same stuff...your nephew was the smart one!!!
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Another reason why the GFDL run should be hoped against...

It brings a Cat 3 very close to where Felix hit last year along the Mosquito Coast... Nicaragua isn't the wealthiest country in the world and could really do without yet another 'cane in that area, even if just a minimal one.
Member Since: August 23, 2008 Posts: 7 Comments: 5300
Just an interesting article on weather sats:

Link
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Hearing wild reports from Bilouxi Kingfish Tournament affected by weather.
Two soft tops, one hard top ripped off. One boat nearly ripped in half and had to be rescued by chopper.
Anyone with any first hand knowledge ???

MissNadia...any news???
Member Since: September 11, 2008 Posts: 9 Comments: 10093
Sullivanweather's 2008-09 winter forecast, for interested parties.
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ahhhhhh not another crow

y now 96L? just go poof already

PS SFWMD is so slow... they don't have a map yet
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96L is very close to TD status right now....imo
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GFS shear forecast does start to weaken the shear, albeit not to a fully "conducive" level, starting after about four days. Also, not too bad for the next 24hrs or so, but yes pretty high on days 3-4, then lessening.

Link
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Random bit of pub quiz trivia:

Florida has the reputation of being the state most at risk from hurricanes. But did you know, when the contemporary naming list (Albeit without male names, which came in 1979*.) came in, it took 7 years for Florida to be hit by a 'named' major hurricane. (MH at landfall.)

Which was it? Hurricane Donna of 1960, hitting not far from Naples as a Cat 4.

And when they changed the names again in the aforementioned year, it took a further.. guess? Yes, it's the infamous one. Hurricane Andrew, 13 years later. Some were close before then, such as David which hit as a Cat 2 in 79, Kate which hit also as a Cat 2 in 85. That same year, Elena stalled just miles off the Floridian coast, but did not make actual landfall there.

So, should the names alter again for whatever reason, history says luck favours Floridians! (At least for a few years.)

* - Same year, and 2 out of the first 3 male names get retired. Someone just had to tempt fate, didn't they?
Member Since: August 23, 2008 Posts: 7 Comments: 5300
TS:yea the area of lighter sheer is forcast to be not a very large area,central america could have to deal w/alot of flooding as well....
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Quoting GeoffreyWPB:
As I posted last night...we ought to do a top 10 list of the most memorable or outrageous posts from this past season.


Might be handy to get that crow grill fired up for ol' times...

And here's a question for you, folks:

If you could pick one hurricane season from 1851-1994 to live through (Assuming you'd be on the coast, even if you're not now.) *and* study (Don't have to be the same year), which would it be and why?

Deliberately left out our current AMO seasons, as they're still fresh in most people's minds.

Member Since: August 23, 2008 Posts: 7 Comments: 5300
1. Winterstormsblog 6:25 AM PST on November 24, 2008
first!

i think Winterstormsblog for got too look at Rule # 7

Do not "1st!", "1st post!", or any of the numerical/linguistic derivatives. This is a worthless use of blog space


you can do the 1st post in other blogs but not this blog
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Quoting stillwaiting:
TS: I looked at the sheer tendency forcast map on the CIMSS website the area I'm speaking of is the new surface low at/or around 80w,10.5 and on the CIMSS map it should drop from 20-30kts currently,to about 10kts....I'm glad we can discuss the tropics rather than our usual bickering,which I give you my word will not ever happen again,brother......we have alot more in common than,not.after all we are both still on here!!!!


LOL......so very true...it looks like the shear does decrease just in its general area.....but, just to the north which was what i was referring to shear does appear to expand south some.......JMO......i just don't see it a problem except for South America which will have some very life threatening flooding.....
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I'm sorry I missed that one...I'm going to have to find last night's blog and look it over...should have been pretty fun!

Wish i was there to hang out...
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Quoting melwerle:
Sorry - took the wrong quote Geoffrey...meant to click on 27.


we had some fun with it last night...it was all in good humor.
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41. JRRP
38: stillwaiting
looks like that
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I think we should see a +500 DOW again today!!!
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Sorry - took the wrong quote Geoffrey...meant to click on 27.
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jrrp: there's the new surface low!!!
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Quoting GeoffreyWPB:
our 10-day forcast agrees with you Tampa..has lows in my neck of the woods (West Palm) in the 40's.


I was pondering that same thing but reconsidered...kind of a "season wrapup" but don't really want to touch that one with a ten-foot pole...

:)
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TS: I looked at the sheer tendency forcast map on the CIMSS website the area I'm speaking of is the new surface low at/or around 80w,10.5 and on the CIMSS map it should drop from 20-30kts currently,to about 10kts....I'm glad we can discuss the tropics rather than our usual bickering,which I give you my word will not ever happen again,brother......we have alot more in common than,not.after all we are both still on here!!!!
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Blast from the past...this day in 2005...

Tropical Storm Delta
Delta is still hanging tough in the face of 30-40 knots of wind shear, but its days are numbered. High shear, dry air, and cooler waters will all conspire to weaken Delta over the next two days, then destroy it by Monday. The deep convection around the eye is already starting to decay, and this storm has missed its chance to become a hurricane. The remnants of Delta have the potential to bring 40 mph winds and heavy rain to the Canary Islands and Morocco early next week.
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TAMPA SPIN-I was just on your blog [loaded with great info] and checked out stairway to heaven,but could not find where to leave a comment.Can you help me find it?
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33. JRRP

looks like is closing circulation
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Quoting JeffMasters:


Sorry, I was focused on getting my winter prediction out, and didn't do my usual check of the tropics first thing. I've added a little blurb on 96L, and will post more later today if it gets more organized.

Jeff Masters


Thanks very much. :)
Member Since: August 23, 2008 Posts: 7 Comments: 5300
Quoting Doc M:
The GFDL model does develop 96L, but none of the other models do.




hmmmmm interesting

brb folks
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30. JeffMasters (Admin)
Quoting KipHansen:
Dear Dr. Masters,

I was interested to see a study, any study, that actually tested the accuracy of the Farmer's Almanac predictions.

If you actually did one, let's see it!

The map you present in your blog above appears to be an "apples-and-oranges" comparison from a single winter season apparently picked at random (?).

Kip Hansen



Hi, the burden should be on the Old Farmer's Almanac to prove their forecasts are 80% accurate--if they are making that claim. I merely reviewed all the studies I could find that attempted to verify their forecasts, and provide one example (of the two winter forecasts I could find) to illustrate a case where their claim of 80% accuracy did not verify. As I admit in my text, the verifications I was able to find are neither objective nor comprehensive.


Jeff Masters
Quoting stillwaiting:
looking at the SW loop it appears that 96L is headed toward TD status this evening as convection near the center is growing and wind sheer is forcast to weaken and looks to be already judging by the WV loop...IMO.... and will look much more impressive as the day passes....


Not sure where you see the forecast for shear to weaken but the 4 day forecast shows it to increase......Shear 4 day loop Link
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our 10-day forcast agrees with you Tampa..has lows in my neck of the woods (West Palm) in the 40's.
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As I posted last night...we ought to do a top 10 list of the most memorable or outrageous posts from this past season.
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Quoting GeoffreyWPB:
Tampa...do the models forcast another big cold front to pass thru Fla. within the forseeable future?


No they don't anytime soon....possibly Tuesday of next week at the earliest...
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Thanks Doc ^_^
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looking at the SW loop it appears that 96L is headed toward TD status this evening as convection near the center is growing and wind sheer is forcast to weaken and looks to be already judging by the WV loop...IMO.... and will look much more impressive as the day passes....
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Quoting GeoffreyWPB:
lol...you love that green graphic!!


I do! you never know when they'll do it again

^_^
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22. JeffMasters (Admin)
Quoting Cotillion:
Surprised the Doc mentioned nothing about our invest.


Sorry, I was focused on getting my winter prediction out, and didn't do my usual check of the tropics first thing. I've added a little blurb on 96L, and will post more later today if it gets more organized.

Jeff Masters

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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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