Farmers’ Almanacs – For Entertainment Purposes Only

First of all… which one? There are two, and they are different.

But really, it doesn’t matter if it’s The Old Farmer’s Almanac or just The Farmers’ Almanac.  That’s like choosing between palm readers.

As a general rule, I have no reason to believe any farmers’ almanac. Weather forecasting involves certain physical relationships: thermodynamics, conservation of mass, wave motion, ocean circulations, and other things I would probably never mention on television. Heaven knows we are not perfect, but I think on the large-scale, we do a pretty good job.

Show me the data

How do the farmers’ almanacs do it? They don’t tell.

So why should I trust them? They allude to solar cycles, moon phases, tides. One of them even claims their secret weather forecasting formula is locked away in a box in New Hampshire (for some reason, this makes me hungry for fried chicken).

I’ll show my data to anyone who wants to see it.  But most people don’t really want to see it.  They just want to know if it’s going to rain or not.  Is it going to be warm or cold?  Is it going to snow?  How much?

The general public has very little interest in why.  So, if they don’t know (or care), will they be able to tell the difference between someone who tools through the data on a daily basis and a faceless organization generating publicity to sell books?

On a deeper level, it says something about the level of science illiteracy in the country. But I digress.  My friend, Dan Satterfield can run with that one.

To be fair, one almanac mentions that they use climatological records, and they hold firm to the belief that certain weather patterns are repeated over the long-term. I can respect that… it’s called analog forecasting. So I would imagine some of their methodology is perfectly valid, but I cannot verify it, so I cannot trust it.

Amazingly, one of them boasts 80% accuracy. If it were that good, they would all be rich from trading weather-based commodities.  They would have investment banks and energy companies beating down their doors for their data.

And if they are right once in a while?  Well, even a stopped clock is correct two times a day.

How soon we forget. Consider one of the forecasts for summer 2014. Oppressive heat was all the rage. Unless you are on the West Coast, that forecast, as my friend Jason Samenow points out at the Capital Weather Gang, was laughably wrong.

I’m certainly no better. But I don’t pretend to be. This type of forecasting is only in its infancy. Let the buyer beware.

This blog was modified from an original post on wset.com, with an update for 2014.

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About seansublette

Meteorologist at Climate Central. Broadcast meteorologist in Virginia from 1995 to 2015. Born and raised in Richmond, VA. Penn State alumnus. Loves baseball and the rock band Rush. Views are independent of my employer. Past performance does not guarantee future results.
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