LEWISTON, Maine – Americans shouldn't expect Mother Nature to help with their heating bills this winter because it's going to be nippy, according to the venerable Farmers' Almanac.
After one of the warmest winters on record, this coming winter will be much colder than normal from coast to coast, the almanac predicts.
"Shivery is not dead!" declared editor Peter Geiger as the latest edition of the 190-year-old publication hits the newsstands.
The almanac, which claims its forecasts are accurate 80 percent to 85 percent of the time, correctly predicted a "polar coaster" of dramatic swings for last winter, Geiger said. For example, New York City collected 40 inches of snow even though it was one of the warmest winters in the city's history.
This year, predicts the almanac's reclusive forecaster, Caleb Weatherbee, it will be frigid from the Gulf Coast all the way up the East Coast.
But it'll be especially nippy on the northern Plains — up to 20 degrees below seasonal norms in much of Montana, the Dakotas and part of Wyoming, he writes.
And, he says, it'll be especially snowy across the nation's midsection, much of the Pacific Northwest, the mountains of the Southwest and parts of eastern New England.
The chilling forecast comes at a time of near-record fuel prices.
"Because of energy costs, nobody wants to hear that it's going to be cold," Geiger said.
On the other hand, "for those who enjoy the outdoors, it's going to be good news," he said.
Weatherbee makes his forecasts two years in advance using a secret formula based on sunspots, the position of the planets and the tidal action of the moon.
Ken Reeves, director of forecasting operations for Accuweather Inc., said there's a "thread of scientific logic" behind the almanac's secret formula even though the conventional wisdom is that local forecasts lose accuracy beyond 15 to 20 days.
"The concept or technique is different from what is done by the scientific meteorological community, but that doesn't mean it's without any merit," Reeves said from State College, Pa. "It's not like someone throwing a dart at the dart board."
Last winter was the fifth-warmest on average in the lower 48 states. Forty-one states had temperatures above average, according to the National Climatic Data Center. That reduced energy demand by an estimated 11 percent, it said.
The Farmers' Almanac, not to be confused with the New Hampshire-based Old Farmer's Almanac, claims a circulation of 4 million. Most copies are sold to banks, insurance companies, oil dealers and other businesses that give them away as promotions. Retail versions are sold around the United States and Canada.
It remains much the same as when it was introduced in 1818, although its focus has shifted from farms and livestock to lawns, gardens and pets.
This year's retail edition is the biggest ever, at 208 pages. It includes traditional charts on astronomy, average frost dates, and planting and gardening calendars. It also has the usual down-home features and cornball humor.
Sondra Duncan, managing editor, said the formula is striking a chord with a new generation of readers, many of whom check out the almanac online.
"There's a new generation that wants to know how to can tomatoes, or start a flower garden, so we fill that niche," Duncan said.
Geiger, whose father edited the almanac for 60 years, put it this way: "The almanac is what it is, and is what it was ... but it remains relevant."