Almanac forecasts: Hit or miss

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LEWISTON – Heavy snow in mid-December?

Didn’t happen.

Snow and cold in November?

Nuh-uh.

The Old Farmer’s Almanac got a few things wrong in its annual winter forecast for the region. So did the Lewiston-based Farmer’s Almanac, but editor Peter Geiger says don’t discount the predictions just yet.

Take Monday as an example. The Farmer’s Almanac says Jan. 12 to 15 will be stormy, then fair, with colder temps.

The New Hampshire-based Old Farmer’s Almanac predicted mild weather in the Northeast for Jan. 14-21, with rain and snow showers. No word of steady snow, sleet or freezing rain.

For November, the Old Farmer’s predicted cold temps and snow alternating with mild air and rain. Its forecast for Nov. 13-16 was “snow and cold.” The Farmer’s Almanac called for a “major East Coast storm” with loads of rain.

The reality: A high on Nov. 14 of 57 degrees. The entire month was mostly mild and virtually snow-free. The official snowfall total for Portland was zero, according to the National Weather Service.

Another blunder: Heavy snow was predicted by the Old Farmer’s for Dec. 19-23, but there was no snow at all and the temperatures were well above freezing, even hitting 50 degrees on Dec. 21. The Farmer’s Almanac had said it would start turning cloudy about then.

So what gives?

Blame El Nino, said Old Farmer’s spokeswoman Ginger Vaughan.

“Our study of solar activity indicated a weak El Nino,” she said Monday. “It’s difficult to determine whether it will be weak or strong.”

Ditto said Geiger.

“We make our forecasts two years in advance,” he noted. The appearance of El Nino can be a wild card any given year.

In fact, scientists detected a weak El Nino – a warm current – in the tropical Pacific only in September. Vernon Kousky, the lead El Nino forecaster for the NOAA Climate Prediction Center, said then that the effect could strengthen by winter.

It did, Vaughan said. And that skewed the Old Farmer’s predictions.

But Geiger says don’t count the Farmer out just yet.

“With winter’s arrival (Monday) people should be ecstatic,” he said. And, he added, it points to the accuracy of his predictions.

“We felt most snow will arrive in February and early March,” he said.

During many El Nino years, that’s just the way it happens.

Despite the strong El Nino, the Old Farmer’s Almanac and the upstart Farmer’s both got it right other times.

A couple of examples: On Jan. 1, the Old Farmer’s Almanac correctly predicted a mild and rainy day. And we did get a bit of snow on Dec. 8, as predicted.

The Old Farmer’s forecast is correct 80 percent of the time, on average, Vaughan said.

“Some years it’s 60 percent correct; other years it’s 90 percent,” she said.

Both almanacs predict weather based on the use of secret formulas made up in post Colonial days. They often factor in things such as sunspots, magnetic storms on the surface of the sun.

So what’s next, based on those calculations?

The Old Farmer’s Almanac says Jan. 22-27 will be very cold with snow showers.

The Farmer’s Almanac says a series of storms will move in from the southwest bringing snow during that same time frame.

But what will El Nino say about that?

As Geiger points out, “It’s been an odd year.”

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