LEWISTON – Gas up the snowblower but don’t put away your umbrella: the Farmers’ Almanac is predicting a wild winter with heavy precipitation and dramatic temperature swings in the Northeast.

The northern Plains and Great Lakes will be snowy, the almanac says, while it will be milder in the southern half of the country.

In the Northeast, it’ll be wetter than normal but whether the precipitation comes down as sheets of rain or as a blizzard will depend on where the pendulum is swinging at that moment, the almanac says.

“The big thing is it’s going to be a winter of extremes,” said managing editor Sandi Duncan, whose almanac hits newsstands Tuesday.

The weather formula used by the 188-year-old Farmers’ Almanac is a closely guarded secret. Prepared two years in advance, the forecasts are based on sunspots, the position of the planets and tidal action of the moon.

The National Weather Service questions the accuracy of forecasts made so far in advance, but the almanac says it gets it right 80 percent of the time. Some people use it for planning weddings and other outdoor events.

The almanac’s forecast last winter was largely on the mark. It predicted a cold winter and Mother Nature delivered a January deep freeze in the Northeast. Even skiers and ice skaters stayed indoors during the cold snap.

The almanac also forecast a wet and cool summer. And that seems to ring true in many places – especially Maine.

This coming winter will get off to a cold start in the Pacific Northwest and northern Plains, the almanac says, and there will be heavier-than-normal snowfall across the northern Plains and Great Lakes.

Compared to last winter’s bitter cold, though, milder weather is in store for southern half of the nation, with near normal or balmy temperatures from California to the Deep South, the almanac says.

Later in 2005, the almanac predicts a wet spring for most of the country, an active pattern for the Midwest’s “Tornado Alley” in April and again in June, and possible hurricane activity as early as July.

In addition to weather prognostication, the Farmers’ Almanac – not to be confused with the Old Farmer’s Almanac in New Hampshire – offers up recipes, brainteasers, jokes, gardening tips and assorted trivia.

This year’s edition also continues a focus by the almanac editors on finding happiness through simplicity.

An article on “Putting the Joy Back into Christmas” noted that the holiday buying binge leads to personal debt and an additional 5 million to 7 million tons of extra waste in landfills.

People should not fear being labeled a Scrooge for cutting back and focusing instead on family time.

“We’re not saying don’t give. Let’s give things that are more significant to the recipient,” said Editor Peter Geiger. “Our theme is to point out that life can be simplified if you want it to be.”

The almanac’s reach continues to grow. The editors expect to distribute 4.5 million copies of the three versions of the almanac: the 200-page retail version, a shorter promotional version and a Canadian version.

Last year, the editors launched a syndicated column that’s in 100 newspapers, and the almanac’s Web site remains popular.

Now the editors are exploring a new medium.

“Our goal is to have a family-oriented television show,” Duncan said. The editors will explore the concept in the coming year.

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