How Accurate is the Farmers' Almanac?

E-mail Janice Dean

Hey FOX Fans! I’m back with more from the FOX News Weather Department. Please send me your suggestions on what you would like me to focus on, or I can answer some of your questions. I received a wonderful response from the last few blogs and will answer some of those very interesting and informative questions next week — I promise!

First things first — I’ve gotten a few e-mails lately asking if I am (ahem) preggers. So far I am still just the “Weather Machine” and not yet “The Baby Machine!” Haha. But you will be the first to know if my belly starts to block the state of Texas on the weather map, OK? (After my doctor and my husband find out, of course!)

Last week on Jane Skinner’s show she wanted me to talk about the Farmers' Almanac for a little segment we fondly call, “Dean's List.” It is worth noting that there are two Farmers' Almanacs — one is out of Maine and the other is the “old” Farmers' Almanac, that comes from New Hampshire. (This seems a little wacky to me — but one of them is obviously “older” than the other.) At any rate, the Farmers' Almanac is predicting a bitterly cold, stormy East and a milder than average West this winter. To go into detail, the Almanac's 2008 edition forecasts plenty of snow for the Northeast, with temperatures averaging as much as three degrees below normal along most of the Atlantic Coast, and four major frosts as far south as Florida. Brrrrrrrr!

For the Great Plains, the Rocky Mountains, the desert southwest and the Pacific Coast — it’s a mild winter for you. Some of the other forecast headlines include an active tornado and hurricane seasons and a warmer-than-normal summer in much of the country.

So how does the Farmer’s Almanac come up with their beloved forecasts? Here’s where it gets more interesting (and confusing).

The forecast is put together two years in advance by some dude who goes by the name of Caleb Weatherbee … this, I’m told is not his real name. Mr. “Weatherbee” apparently bases his forecast on a “secret formula” that includes sunspots, the planetary positions and the tides. Secret formula? Strange pseudonym name? What are they trying to hide from us?

I have to be careful with my skepticism, because after all, this is a beloved piece of literature (that many I hear keep in their bathroom for some … leisurely reading!) It’s 191 years old and people adore this thing … right? But, I am a little weary of anything that is “secretive” when it comes to weather predictions, as well as something that is done two years in advance! (Not to mention someone who does his forecasting in a cloak of mystery…)

My other concern is that the Almanac’s winter forecast is quite different than the federal government’s outlook (NOAA) which is based largely on climatology and statistical trends. The NOAA predict ABOVE average temperatures in the East and the Southwest, with drier than average weather along the southern tier of states and up the east coast into Virginia.

So how accurate is this thing anyway? Strangely enough, my Google search did not prove very fruitful … not too many people have taken the Farmers' Almanac to task! It’s been claimed that the book is 80 to 85 percent accurate, and the book touts that their readers can’t go without their predictions — claiming it’s a “bride’s best friend!” Wow. That’s quite an endorsement.

What’s my thought on this? Well, I’m weary about any forecast that is any longer than a week out! Even hurricane forecasts are fine-tuned every few months — a new “revised” version with new findings to let the public know what could be in store for them this season.

And, we can’t forget our favorite furry forecaster … the groundhog that comes out every February to see if his shadow scares him back into his hole, predicting six more weeks of winter! How accurate is he? And did you know that there are SEVERAL groundhogs that have been hired to do this job for different parts of the country? Poor Punxsutawney Phil needs to step up his game with all of the bucked tooth competition out there!

My bottom line is this — until we can get a foolproof five-day forecast down, I don’t think any bride will know whether (weather) or not it will rain on her wedding day!

Janice Dean is a meteorologist for FNC. To read more of her bio, please click here.