Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Did Winter Surprise? You Didn't Consult the Farmers Almanacs Both Age-Old Tomes Predicted Cold, Snow

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Did Winter Surprise? You Didn't Consult the Farmers Almanacs Both Age-Old Tomes Predicted Cold, Snow

Article excerpt

It was the worst of climes, this winter of our discontent.

We endured it all -- freezing rain, sleet, snow, more snow, even more snow, whiteouts, cold temperatures, frigid temperatures, Arctic temperatures. And more snow.

We trudged to work through sleet, snow and slush, learned scary phrases -- polar vortex! -- and suffered through snowstorms and deadly wind chills as ubiquitous as potholes. Salt was in short supply as was toilet paper, milk and bread, given the pre-storms rush to stock up, apparently for fear of being trapped for months by the winter Armageddon.

The unusually harsh winter spread from the Dakotas to Southern states, where freezing temps and snow are normally as likely as seeing a frost-bitten unicorn.

But you can't say you didn't have fair warning. The 2014 edition of the Farmers' Almanac, based in Maine, predicted on Aug. 26, 2013, that two-thirds of the country would have below-average temperatures for the winter season and the Pittsburgh region was on the dividing line between "bitterly cold and snow-filled" and "cold, wet and white."

The on-target prediction by elusive forecaster "Caleb Weatherbee," a nom de plume used for years by various people, was based on a secret mathematical and astronomical formula, including sunspot activity, lunar cycles, planetary position and many other factors. The Farmers' Almanac has been making weather forecasts for all of its 197 years of publication.

The next month, the rival Old Farmer's Almanac, headquartered in New Hampshire, likewise warned in its 2014 edition of "below-normal temperatures and above-normal snowfall during most of the winter across much of the United States." Published since 1792, the older of the almanacs comes up with its weather forecasts through the study of sunspots and other solar activity; climatology, the study of historic weather patterns; and meteorology, the study of the atmosphere.

Off the mark was the long-range prediction by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Using climatology, large- scale atmospheric patterns and the potential effects of El Nino and La Nina, it predicted, on average, a milder than normal winter with about normal precipitation for our area.

"We usually have an 80 to 85 percent accuracy rate, but I think we get a 95 percent for this winter so far," said Sandi Duncan, Farmers' Almanac managing editor. "People feel the Farmers' Almanac is so accurate or not accurate at all. Meteorologists either appreciate or dismiss it. We do like to gloat a little when we're right."

Sarah L. Perreault, senior associate editor for the Old Farmer's Almanac, likewise was happy.

"We're pretty excited at our accuracy rate," she said, adding she expected it would be at least 90 percent when it's calculated at the end of the book's cycle in August.

"I'm not happy everybody was suffering, but I'm happy our prediction gave everyone a heads-up. I, for one, am done with shoveling. I can't do it anymore. We're having a snowstorm right now."

Both almanacs predicted a heavy snowstorm would hit New York at the beginning of February, threatening the Feb. …

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