This summer, a think tank put a dice-rolling chimpanzee up against the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration to see who could better predict hurricanes: a chimp or a group of well-funded, well-educated scientists.
The scientists won, but it wasn't exactly a blowout.
Which got us thinking.
What iconic forecasting institution did the Sun Journal have in its backyard just itching to be put to an equally unscientific test?
Meet Peter Geiger, editor of the storied, nearly 200-year-old Farmers' Almanac. He graciously accepted our forecasting challenge on the annual almanac's behalf.
"People write to us and what we're told is we're 80 to 85 percent accurate," Geiger said.
Now meet our weather fox.
Her services are on loan for the season from the Maine Wildlife Park in Gray. Officially, she's asked to remain nameless; unofficially, we'll call her Stormy. She's a gray fox with a solitary life in a tree-and grass-filled habitat known as The Fox Pen. Stormy is at least 9 years old, brought into the park in 2001 as a kit too dependent on humans to be reintroduced to the wild and is, apparently, game for the contest.
Park Superintendent Curt Johnson makes no claims about her accuracy. His exact words: "I don't know, guys ... I don't think I'd give her much credit."
Every week for the duration of winter, we'll ask Stormy a weather question and share her answer. The next week, we'll share how the fox and the almanac fared.
Geiger welcomed the competition.
"I would hope we could do better than a fox," he said. "I think foxes are judged to be a little bit crafty and sneaky, if you will. But I think relative to, say, the groundhog, they're not nearly as smart as the groundhog. And I really don't think the groundhog does that great a job with the weather."
The Farmers' Almanac makes its predictions based on sun-spot activity, planet positions, secret formulas and a mysterious character named Caleb Weatherbee. Its forecasts are renowned, used by readers to plan vacations, choose wedding dates and decide when to plant. The almanac even offers the best days to wash windows and castrate farm animals.
Stormy, on the other hand, is going with her gut.
Our fox will make predictions by picking from three piles of the same food placed on her regular dinner log. Each pile will be preassigned an answer, with one being the same as the almanac, the others different. Stormy's choice — the first pile to score a bite — will determine her pick for the week. (The food is all part of her normal lunch; we won't be harming any foxes gastrointestinally.) If she seems overly fond of a particular pile over time, we'll switch up the numbers. No cheating here!
The questions and answers will appear on Page A2 every Wednesday until spring. Today, the first day of winter, we kick off the series a day early with a Christmas query.
May the best forecaster win.
Is it going to snow on Christmas?
The food: Dog food. The choices: 1) Yes. 2) No. 3) Rain.
The Farmer's Almanac says: No. "Fair, cold."
Stormy's Furcast: Yes. Snow! Snow! Snow!