LEWISTON (AP) – Tune up the snowblower and the furnace. Get out the long johns and galoshes. The Farmers’ Almanac predicts a cold winter with plenty of snow.

Beginning in February, the almanac says, a barrage of storms will target the eastern half of the country, with no letup until early spring, and parts of New England will get snow into late April.

The almanac, which hits the newsstands Tuesday, provides little solace to snow-weary New Englanders still thawing out from last winter.

“The big story in the Northeast is that February looks like it’s going to be a never-ending series of storms that will be reminiscent of last year, when just about everybody was ready to head for Hawaii,” said Sandi Duncan, the almanac’s managing editor.

The West also faces a cold, snowy winter, the almanac says. Bucking the trend is the Southeast, where mild weather is predicted. The forecast calls for a showery spring followed by an extremely warm and humid summer. It says one and possibly two hurricanes may threaten the East Coast in the first half of August.

The almanac, which has been predicting the weather for 187 years, obtains its forecasts from the reclusive Caleb Weatherbee, who prepares them two years in advance and is poised to begin work on the 2006 outlook. His formula remains a well-guarded secret, even to almanac editors, but is linked to sunspots, the position of the planets and tidal action of the moon.

The almanac divides the country into seven zones and offers broad-ranging predictions for each zone in three-day periods.

While the National Weather Service doubts that anyone can predict weather with any degree of accuracy so far in advance, the almanac claims to get it right about 80 percent of the time.

Readers have relied for decades on the almanac’s long-term forecasts to set wedding dates and plan vacations, says editor Peter Geiger.

Based on letters, calls and e-mails he receives, Geiger said nine out of 10 people seem pleased with the results.

The almanac, now in its 187th year, includes the usual mixture of calendar data, one-line jokes, household hints, recipes, inspirational messages, quizzes, gardening tips and assorted tidbits of information.

While the almanac predicts a rugged winter, it also offers a few tips on how to deal with some of the challenges the cold weather brings. There are suggestions for easing flu symptoms, beating cabin fever and soothing dry skin.

Geiger says circulation of the 192-page retail edition has grown to about 1 million copies. His company also puts out 4 million copies of a 64-page version which is sold to banks, insurance companies and other businesses that put their names on it and distribute it free to customers as a goodwill promotion.

The almanac, which has had a presence on the Web for years, is looking to branch out into other media. One project in the works is a Farmers’ Almanac television series. Geiger said he is working with a producer in Savannah, Ga., who has completed a videotaped history of almanacs that he hopes to use as a springboard to a daily or weekly TV segment.

A daily or weekly Farmers’ Almanac newspaper column that would be syndicated to daily and weekly newspapers is also in the exploration stage.

While still heavy on nostalgia and the values of the past, the almanac has broadened its appeal to younger audiences, its editors say. The median age of its readership has dropped from about 45 to 35 over the past decade.

One feature of the almanac that remains constant is the small hole in the upper left corner that enables readers to hang the publication in a convenient location.

Geiger guesses that about 30 percent of readers use the hole; the most popular spots to hang the almanac include kitchen doorknobs and toilet paper holders in the bathroom.

He adds this reminder: “If you have multiple toilets, you need multiple copies.”



On the Net:

http://www.farmersalmanac.com/

AP-ES-08-24-03 1315EDT



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