There Are 2 Competing Farmers' Almanacs—Which One's Prediction For A Brutal Winter Should You Trust?

Even with their top-secret methods, they agree on one thing: winter is coming.

August 17, 2017
Farmers Almanac 2017-2018 weather
Photograph courtesy of Farmers' Almanac

Winter is coming, and not just according to Jon Snow—the Farmers' Almanac also agrees that you should batten down the hatches, gird your soldiers with obsidian, and prepare for an onslaught of white walkers—err, stock up on warm clothes and space heaters in case of flurries and cold temps. (Here's how to prepare your home for a winter storm.) 

For over 200 years, the Farmer's Almanac, founded in 1818, (not to be confused with the original Old Farmer's Almanac, founded in 1792) has made sweeping (albeit questionable) forecasts for the whole winter season ahead of time—and they've just posted their 2017-2018 overview online

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The Maine-based Farmers' Almanac uses "sunspot activity, tidal action of the Moon, position of the planets, and a variety of other factors," but rely on a superhero-like "Almanac weather prognosticator" with a secret identity, who goes by the pseudonym of Caleb Weatherbee and may or may not make quick changes in phone booths before he predicts the weather. 

Related: Did You Know That USDA Hardiness Zones Have Changed?

The New Hampshire-based Old Farmers' Almanac (which was—credit where credit is due—the first almanac) also uses "sunspot activity, tidal action, planetary position," along with other "top secret mathematical and astronomical formulas," first devised by the founder, Robert B. Thomas, in 1792.Their "top secret" formula is, they say, literally locked in a little black box, which is very Men In Black of them.

These competitors both claim to be an average of 80% accurate, and keep their methods proprietary. 

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The Farmers' Almanac forecast for winter 2017-2018

This winter, the Farmers' Almanac advises that the area immediately East of the Rocky mountains will see "normal to moderate snowfall, while the Southeast will see "below normal winter temperatures with an unseasonable chill reaching as far south as the Gulf Coast, with above-average precipitation." 

Related: 20 Little Ways To Nurture Yourself This Winter

From the Great Lakes into the Northeast, snowier-than-normal conditions are expected, while "“normal” as far as the temperatures are concerned, especially in the "Eastern and Central parts of the country–chiefly those areas to the east of the Rocky Mountains–with many locations experiencing above-normal precipitation." 

They also say they are "red-flagging" the 2018 dates of January 20-23, February 4-7 & 16-19, and March 1-3 & 20-23 along the Atlantic Seaboard, predicting heavy precipitation during those times. So, if you're a believer, you can mark those dates in advance to prepare for snowstorms and ice. 

 

Related: 4 Ways To Brighten Up Your Winter

Unlike the Farmers' AlmanacOld Farmers' Almanac only posts the next 60 days of predictions online, so if you want their winter predictions, you'll have to grab a print copy of the book. For both almanacs, if you want to get detailed day-by-day predictions, you'll need to purchase the book (or PDF). You'll often see them at your grocery checkout lane by your gum and regrettable candy choices, or you can order them online. You can get the Farmers' Almanac (for a whopping $7) here, and Old Farmers' Almanac (for $8) here

So how accurate are they anyway? 

First of all, most meteorologists say you can't trust any weather prediction beyond 10 days, never mind 365 days.

Regardless of that,  people still love both of the almanacs (3 to 4 million copies are printed each year). Though the almanacs are still read and shared widely, according to a 2013 paper published in scholarly journal Weather, Climate, and Society, just 18% of farmers actually use a farmer's almanac when planning their crops.

“Being in the business of predicting long-range weather forecasts is exciting, worrisome and rewarding," Farmers' Almanac managing editor Sandi Duncan writes. "Many of our readers rejoice when we predict cold and snowy conditions while others complain that it's too cold and wet. Yet we have to stick by our predictions no matter what Mother Nature may throw at us. We do believe that we provide an invaluable, long-range outlook that helps people plan ahead."  

 

Related: 6 Ways To Embrace Hygge, The Danish Secret To Staying Happy During Winter

As for accuracy, at the end of every year,  Old Farmer's Almanac publishes an analysis of their forecast, and give themselves a score. From 2015-2016 they claim 55.6% accuracy, and from 2014-2015 they rated themselves a 96.3%, so the swing can vary widely. 

Both almanacs also benefit from being slightly vague in their predictions. According to Penn State meteorologist Paul Knight's interview with Penn State News, "They say from November 5 through 10, for that whole period: sunny/cool. If one day is sunny and cool, does that count? Does every day have to be sunny and cool? If you held them to every single word for the entire area and every word for the entire period, then I say they might not even be right one third of the time. In fact, they might be right 10 percent of the time." Acknowledges Knight, "I don't think they're holding themselves to that degree of accuracy, and I don't think other people are either."

Given the hiding formulas in black boxes and secret identities, we'd say both of these almanacs take their weather predicting with a grain of salt and a dollop of good humor. We're game to read along. 

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